CREIGHT EXPECTATIONS

Patrick Creighton: Why LeBron To Houston makes the most sense

Lebron James would look good in Rockets red. Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

After the Cavaliers got embarrassed in the NBA Finals, there should be no doubt that LeBron James is on his way out the door.  The only questions are where to and for how much.

The three teams most linked to James are the Lakers, the Sixers and the Rockets.  The Lakers and Sixers both have cap space to sign James outright, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they fit LeBron’s wish list.

What we know about LeBron is that he wants to win championships, and win them now. The Lakers and Sixers offer lots of young talent, but young talent that isn’t necessarily ready to challenge the Warriors this coming season.  James isn’t looking to wait, nor is he looking to raise a bunch of kids and hope they get where he wants them to be.

LeBron would be the only veteran star in Philly, alongside a talented but injury prone Joel Embiid, a good young player in Ben Simmons who can’t shoot, and a big unknown in Markelle Fultz. Also, the snafu involving former team president Bryan Colangelo can’t be in their favor, as head coach Brett Brown is now interim president.

The Lakers also offer young talent, but it’s VERY young, and not likely ready to combat the Warriors.  Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram are only 20 years old, and Kyle Kuzma is 22. While LeBron may be able to take a second star with him (Paul George or Boogie Cousins?) that’s a lot of child raising for James, who has always been more interested in veterans than kids.  Add in LaVar Ball’s constant commentary, and it’s not hard to see the downsides to LA for LeBron.

All of this brings us to the Rockets. Houston already has one superstar locked up in James Harden, and has Bird Rights on Chris Paul making it most likely he re-ups in Space City (as president of the NBPA who just got the Over-36 Rule changed to the Over-38 rule so he could get one last max deal, bank on it).  Houston is the only one of the three teams where LeBron knows he doesn’t have to carry the load for the duration of the regular season. Houston has an established head coach & general manager, which neither of the other two teams can offer. Rockets new owner Tilman Fertitta will pay the dollars to bring a title to Houston.

Without a doubt, LeBron’s best chance to beat the Warriors is in Houston.

Now, the only way James makes it to Houston is by opting in to the final year of his deal, and the Cavaliers trading him to the Rockets. While it seems like this would be the most complicates route, it’s also the route that makes the most sense for Cleveland.

Rather than lose LeBron for nothing to the Sixers or Lakers, the Cavs can get assets from the Rockets to assist in their newfound rebuild.  A package built around Eric Gordon and PJ Tucker makes the most sense for Cleveland, as both of those players have reasonable contracts and have value – the kind of value that nets a first round pick in a trade by the deadline.  Any deal would also likely require two first round picks from Houston (2019, 2021), the inclusion of young developmental bigs Chinanu Onuaku and Zhou Qi, and some salary filler (Nene?) to make sure that both teams comply with the 25% rule since they are both salary cap taxpayers.

That creates a potential of four first round picks plus two young bigs for losing LeBron to jumpstart the rebuild.  Even if they are later 1st round picks, four first round picks > no first round picks, every single time.

As an added bonus, by flipping Gordon and Tucker for picks by the deadline, and presuming that Kevin Love would also be dealt for draft assets, the Cavs could reduce their cap not only out of taxpayer status, but completely under the cap to about $78M.  George Hill could also be dealt for draft assets because he’s in the final year of his deal, but worst case scenario is that he plays the year out in Cleveland, the Cavs renounce his rights at the end of the season, and they remove another $19M from the cap, bringing their cap down to approximately $59M after one season from over $130M.  When you consider that massive change in cap allocation plus the 6-7 first round draft picks they could realistically acquire, this is an absolute no brainer for The Land.

LeBron gets to the best team to help him win in Houston, Cleveland gets jumpstarted on their rebuild with tons of picks and loses a boatload of salary in one season.  This is what we call a win-win.

The only #NewMath required will be the money you need for your season tickets, which will be going up if the Rockets are paying James ($35.6M), and re-signing Paul & Clint Capela with Bird rights to cover that massive salary and tax bill.  

Having LeBron with Paul and Harden will be worth it.

Patrick Creighton hosts “Late Hits” weeknights 7-9p on ESPN 97.5 Houston, and “Straight Heat” weeknights 9p-12a CT on SB Nation Radio & SportsMap 94.1 Houston. Follow him on Twitter: @pcreighton1

 

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It more of the same from the Houston Texans. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

Sunday afternoon provided a high-res snapshot of the state of Houston sports. The Astros, already assured of the best record in the American League, played a game they didn’t need to win. The Astros won, ho-hum, their 104th win of the season.

Meanwhile, eight miles away, the Texans, mired in last place with fan support dwindling, played a game they really needed to win. The Texans lost 34-24 to the Los Angeles Chargers in front of (giggle) 69,071 fans at NRG Stadium. The Texans really ought to stop saying the stands are packed. Every time a team punts, and cameras follow the ball skyward, there are thousands of empty seats on display. I know the NFL methodology for determining attendance, (total tickets sold, no-shows don’t count) but it just looks silly when the Texans announce 69,000 fans.

The Texans came close as usual before sputtering to another defeat. The Texans now stand at 0-3-1, the only winless team in the NFL. It’s the second time in three years they’ve started a season without a victory after four games. It’s telling to note that not one of the Texans opponents has a winning record for 2022.

In other words, the Texans have played four games they shoulda/coulda won. Shouda against the Colts, Broncos and Bears, and coulda against the Chargers.

Should/coulda four wins. Instead, none.

That’s the Texans. They’re in every game but can’t close the deal. Yeah, yeah, on Monday we hear, “the Texans are playing hard for coach Lovie Smith” and “they’re competitive” and “they’re a young team.” These are NFL equivalents of a participation trophy.

Sunday’s loss to the Chargers at NRG Stadium was straight out of the Texans playbook. Fall behind, make it interesting, lose. The Texans stuck to their script, timid play calling, momentum-crushing penalties (nine for 67 yards), self-inflicted drops, lackluster quarterbacking and Rex Burkhead on the field for crunch time. After one play where a Texan player was called for holding, the announcer said, “and he did a poor job of holding.”

Statuesque quarterback David Mills keeps saying “we’re in a good spot” and “we’re improving.” Statuesque as in he doesn’t move – or barely moves to avoid sacks. Sunday saw his first touchdown pass to a wide receiver. He’s now thrown four interceptions in the past two games. Let’s go to the tote board: 5 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, 4 fumbles, 11 sacks, qbr rating 28.5 – good for 28th in the league.

A bright spot, sort of. This was the first week the Texans didn’t cover the spread. They’re now 1-2-1 against Vegas oddsmakers, meaning you’ve won money if you took the Texans all four weeks. They head to Jacksonville next as early 6.5-point underdogs.

Meanwhile, Alabama’s brilliant quarterback Bryce Young, who will be available for the Texans when they draft first in 2023 (as Paul Heyman says, that’s not a prediction, that’s a spoiler), suffered a shoulder injury last Saturday. The Texans need to take out a Lloyds of London insurance policy on Young.

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