The Rockets took the first big step toward making a run at James by agreeing to trade Omer Asik and cash considerations to the New Orleans Pelicans for a protected future first-round draft pick, a person with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press on Wednesday night. The person requested anonymity because the deal cannot be completed until July due to rules in the collective bargaining agreement and salary cap issues.
James informed the Miami Heat earlier this week that he is opting out of his contract and will become a free agent when the new league year begins on July 1. Carmelo Anthony did the same with the New York Knicks, meaning two of the most dynamic players in the league are available in the same summer.
Morey, whose Rockets were eliminated by the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round of the playoffs this season, wants to bring a third star to Houston to team with James Harden and Dwight Howard. To do that, Morey has to free up cap room by trading Asik, a disgruntled big man who requested a trade last season after Howard took his starting spot, and point guard Jeremy Lin to give him about $19 million to throw at James.
Many across the league expect James to remain in Miami, where Pat Riley is trying to retool a roster that won two championships and made four straight NBA Finals but was beaten decisively in five games by the San Antonio Spurs to end this season.
But Morey can offer James a younger roster with two supporting cast members who are much closer to their primes than Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
If they swing and miss on James, Morey is expected to turn his attention to Anthony, perhaps the game's best pure scorer. He could also look at trading for Minnesota All-Star Kevin Love, who can opt out of his contract next summer and has told the Timberwolves that he will not sign a long-term contract with the team.
If anyone wondered about Morey's willingness to go big again this summer after winning the Dwight Howard sweepstakes last year and trading for Harden in 2012, he answered that emphatically on less than 24 hours before the NBA draft was scheduled to be held on Thursday night. The Rockets also avoid having to pay Asik a $15 million balloon payment in the final year of his contract, but it will count just over $8.3 million against the Pelicans' cap next season.
But the Rockets aren't the only potential winners in this deal.
Getting Asik is a significant move for the Pelicans, who got one of the league's best interior defenders to pair with rising star Anthony Davis.
Asik only averaged just over 20 minutes per game in 48 games last season. But his unhappiness with his situation behind Howard and a few nagging injuries certainly played large roles in his relative lack of production. He averaged 5.8 points, 7.9 rebounds and shot 53 percent from the field last season. But in a starting role the previous season, Asik averaged 10.1 points, 11.7 boards and 1.1 blocks in all 82 games.
Asik will have a much more prominent role in New Orleans next season, and his presence should allow the super-athletic, ultra-instinctual Davis even more freedom to roam on the defensive end and create havoc for opposing pick-and-roll tandems.
New Orleans has missed the playoffs for three straight seasons, and GM Dell Demps didn't hesitate to give up a first-round pick to acquire a big building block that will make life easier for Davis and help the Pelicans try to make a jump in the powerful Western Conference.
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