On Tuesday, the NBA will change from a slightly ridiculous league of mostly functional basketball competition to an all-out irrational fight for an uncertain future. As quality players under contract morph into prized free agents sure to push a team to a title, general managers and fans consider delusions of grandeur. Everyone gets caught up in the moment, because that's often what's required to land a good player in the first place.
The Houston Rockets have been very active on the free agent market over the past few summers, with general manager Daryl Morey regularly opening up enough cap room to land one or two players at max-level salaries. Although the Rockets didn't succeed in a major way until nabbing Dwight Howard last summer, they're big players once again with New York Knicks All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony set to visit Houston on the first day of free agency. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle has details of their prospective pitch:
The thrust of the presentation will be about the Rockets’ contention that Anthony, a 6-8 forward, would be joining a contender. According to an individual familiar with the plans, they would cite their roster, expected to include every starter off a 54-win team.
They will describe how Anthony, 30, would be used. They will use many of the same representatives — owner Leslie Alexander, CEO Tad Brown, general manager Daryl Morey, coach Kevin McHale, former player Clyde Drexler, trainer Keith Jones and James Harden — as those who landed Howard. Howard will also be a part of the presentation, replacing free agent Chandler Parsons on the welcoming committee.
But the Rockets will hope to use home-court advantage as they could not last season. Howard’s meetings were set up in Los Angeles, with the Rockets contingent making their appeal at a hotel dinner. On Wednesday, Anthony is scheduled to be at Toyota Center where the Rockets plan to pull out all the recruiting stops the $7 million upgrade to the basketball facilities allow. [...]
Anthony planned to begin his tour in Chicago. When he gets to Houston (with a trip to Dallas scheduled for later Wednesday), the Rockets hope to make his visit memorable. As much as the Rockets will emphasize the more sober facts and figures related to team building, they plan to use their extensive collection of gadgetry, from the video boards and sound system in the locker room to the new weight room, video room and player’s lounge in ways they could not last summer when recruiting Howard.
As noted by Feigen in this article, this pitch isn't especially different from how the Rockets sold Howard. In that case, there's something off about their logic. Anthony would add considerable firepower to Houston, but he doesn't necessarily turn them into an instant title contender. In reviewing this news, Matt Moore of Eye on Basketball correctlly pointed out that the Rockets, already one of the best offensive teams in the NBA, need superior defense to get to a championship level, which isn't exactly Anthony's best area. For that matter, the Rockets' plan for future with Melo appears to include small forward and pending restricted free agent Chandler Parsons, who might be tough to keep without some major moves and/or a considerable luxury tax hit.
In other words, the Rockets are not selling Melo on what the future could legitimately look like so much as what it would appear as in a frictionless world. As the Miami Heat have learned, a collection of superior talent doesn't guarantee eternal championships, both because it requires a ton of hard work and trial-and-error to get just one and because excellent players often get significantly worse as they age. A team of James Harden, Dwight Howard, Chandler Parsons, Carmelo Anthony, and a random friend might sound like it could win every game 140-95, but they would have to decide on an offensive hierarchy, their roles, and defensive rotations, to say nothing of executing well.
Every person in a free-agent pitch and negotiation knows these things to be true, but for some reason this process tends to shunt reason to the periphery. It's about convincing the free agent, not making a logical argument that he's best fit for this particular team. Whether the Rockets provide an accurate picture of their future is beside the point — the goal is to make themselves attractive to Melo. It's part of the business of basketball, but it'd be wrong to act like it has much to do with the realities of what happens on the court.
- - - - - - -