LeBron James is just a little busy.
But one of his best friends is already hounding him about plans for next year.
According to The New York Times’ Marc Stein, Chris Paul “has already begun his recruitment of James to Houston.”
Of course, beyond convincing LeBron to join forces with Paul and James Harden, a major obstacle would remain: money.
If the team signed him outright, even after renouncing the rights of Paul, breakout big man Clint Capela, and Trevor Ariza, LeBron would only be able to sign for roughly half of what he could make by opting into the final year of his contract with Cleveland.
So how can the Rockets get LeBron without sacrificing too many valuable pieces?
Two paths stand out as far likelier than the rest.
Path 1: Dump salary
Ryan Anderson is signed to an unsightly $42 million over the next two years. If Houston GM Daryl Morey can find a taker for Anderson by attaching a first-round pick or two, and can unload some of the team’s more reasonable contracts, like those of Eric Gordon ($27.5 million over two years), P.J. Tucker (three years, $24 million, $19 million guaranteed), and Nene (one year, almost $4 million), they might be in business.
That’s easier said than done. But Morey would be willing to take a bath in just about any deal if it means adding LeBron to Paul, Capela, and possibly Trevor Ariza, depending on how much owner Tilman Fertitta is willing to pay in luxury tax.
Even if they can ditch Anderson, Gordon, Tucker, and Nene, however, Paul and LeBron would have to be willing to split $54 million in space to play together, about $20 million less than they could make combined if the Rockets had all their cap space.
Path 2: Get help from the Cavaliers
Last season, instead of losing Paul for nothing, the Clippers agreed to trade the point guard to the Rockets after he opted into the final year of his deal. That netted Paul’s former team a haul of useful players and a first-round pick.
For the Cavs and Rockets to follow this model, LeBron would have to play along, Cleveland would likely have to be interested in Gordon and/or Tucker, and Houston would probably have to find a third team to take on Anderson with draft assets attached. Luckily, there are a few tanking teams with cap space, such as the Bulls and the Nets, who should be willing to take on bad money money for draft picks.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle in this scenario would be convincing awful Cavs owner Dan Gilbert to help LeBron leave Cleveland, even though his refusal would mean watching the four-time MVP leave with nothing to show for it for a second time.