- LeBron James and Chris Paul both hit free agency this summer. Could they, along with James Harden, team up in Houston? Lee Jenkins and Ben Golliver consider the question.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Lee Jenkins wrote this week's cover story, on Mike D'Antoni, James Harden, Chris Harden and the birth of Space City. In this special episode of the Open Floor podcast, Ben Golliver speaks with Jenkins about the makeup of the Rockets and whether LeBron James could fit in Houston.
(Listen to the latest Open Floor Podcast here. The following transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Ben Golliver: You kind of slipped in the fact that Chris Paul had signed papers for his house in Houston. Did you have a greater meaning with that line? Is he there long-term?
Lee Jenkins: No, those guys move all the time and actually Chris was already kind of lamenting his commutes. So, no, but I just can't imagine that they would break this up? Can you?
Golliver: No, not at all. It's worked so well. I had very high hopes and it's worked higher than my expectations and I would be surprised if Daryl Morey would say something other than that. I'm sure he came in with the highest of expectations and when you set a franchise record for wins and you're cruising through the playoffs—that's what you do it for.
I guess my next question would be... If Paul is in the fold going forward and they take care of his contract this summer, my contention has been since at least the fall that for LeBron the best possible scenario would be an organization that has a stable ownership, good general manager, caters to superstars, makes the most out of their players, understands what it is in the modern NBA that you're asking from those guys and can support them. After spending time down there with this group in the middle of the playoff run, can you see LeBron fitting in with them Or is this a situation if maybe it makes sense in the fantasy world of podcast, but in reality it doesn't seem like quite a nice fit.
Jenkins: They would have to really break up this whole system that they have. And there'd be a lot of risk there. I don't I think it would be like Kevin Durant kind of sliding into Golden State. I think their whole identity really would be at risk and would change if he's there.
When Durant went to Golden State it was a given, right? They would win multiple titles. I don't know that if LeBron went there, do you view that as a given? The age he would be, with the scrutiny he would take, I think it has to be close to a sure thing. And I don't know if I see Houston as a sure thing with LeBron there, given everything they would have to lose; this whole identity they've built, that we've talked about for the last 20 minutes, it would be essentially out the door, right?
Golliver: Yeah, and you'd be asking a lot of sacrifice from Harden just in terms of touches and shots. I think their ceiling would be so unbelievably high. I mean, having three guys who can pass as well those guys, they would be like three of the top five passers in the NBA on the same team. They would be ridiculous. And LeBron can shoot from the three-point line just like Chris can so I think that would be a solid fit. It would help with his minutes, but he doesn't seem to really care about that right now. He seems to be relishing playing 46 minutes in the playoffs, so maybe he doesn't want the break, the San Antonio Spurs style, sort of slow ramp down late in your career. Maybe that's not motivating him, but that would be on benefit of him going to Houston.
It's really strange, though, Lee, because the first thing you said was that there'd be a lot of compromises with bringing in LeBron. I feel like even a year ago we would never have started a conversation about LeBron's free agency in that way. And I'm hearing the same things coming out of Philadelphia, too. Some of their fans are saying, 'Look, we kind of like our young core. We don't necessarily want LeBron kind of coming in and sucking up the oxygen and being the face of this when things are building organically. I'm wondering, do you see that shift in sort of his perception here as we get to this stage of his career? I mean, obviously, he's still the best player in the game. He's turned in insane performances night after night here in the postseason, but it seems like the calculus of LeBron's free agency has maybe changed subtly here in the last year.
Jenkins: Well, we're talking about teams that are on incredible trajectories, teams with 65 wins. I asked a couple people in Houston about it and there was sort of a look of 'Why would we break this up right now?' Because they know everything they would have to give up, they know how many moves they would have to make and would they be able to preserve the same level of shooting, the same level of defense? And this is people kind of inside the organization wondering how much they would have to sacrifice of what they've built as far as the way they play. They'd have to play significantly different, and I don't know how it looks. How many of those shooters they'd have to lose or how much they'd be able to retain and then have LeBron James too.
But, no, I think you make a good point. I think for both of those teams... I mean, the last two teams LeBron signed with he was kind of going into not blank slates but pretty close. Miami was obviously doing something out of nothing and Cleveland wasn't on an upward trajectory when he went there. This would be different, right? We're talking about teams that are essentially there or will be there very shortly, and so there's going to be more reservations with those kind of clubs than there would have been with Miami in 2010 or the Cavs in '14.
Golliver: No question. I think LeBron might want to change his mentality here a little bit, because competing with a team like Golden State, trying to start with a clean slate is very difficult when they've already got four future Hall of Famers, like you called them, in place, ready to win 60 games every single year here for the next couple of years. It could require a change in his thinking and his approach as well.
Alright, Lee, I've kept you too long, but thanks so much for breaking down your story. It's the cover story of this week's SI magazine and everybody can check that out online as well. Lee, I'll talk to you.
Jenkins: Thanks, Ben. Appreciate it, man.
Golliver: I hope you guys enjoyed that conversation as much as I did.