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LeBron James Unknowingly Lends Houston A Helping Hand

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How did the Houston Rockets come out as big winners in the LeBron James free agency saga? We break down the repercussions of James' decision to head south.

The moment he gave his much-awaited 'Decision' on Thursday night, LeBron James enunciated his destination like a true Englishman. It was almost too heavy -- that is, the enormous weight of a nation's watchful eye -- for him to move his lips. When the words finally came out, it was all in slow motion. Fittingly.

"... Sowwth Beach."

Miami cheered. Cleveland crumbled. Chicago cursed. New Jersey nodded. New York knew, but they hadn't heard the words until now. And almost assuredly, Houston let out a "huzzah!" of its own.

Wait a second... Houston? Houston never had a shot at LeBron. Heck, they never had a legitimate shot at Chris Bosh. What does Houston have to do with anything?

Quite a bit, actually.

LeBron James' announcement not only secured a deep playoff run for Miami, a losing season for Cleveland, a regression for Chicago and a mediocre future for New York -- it also placed an extraordinary amount of value in at least one of two draft picks that the Houston Rockets managed to snag from the Knicks upon trading Tracy McGrady for Jordan Hill last February. At least McGrady was worth something to the Rockets' future.

Suddenly, despite grabbing Amar'e Stoudemire, Anthony Randolph and serviceable parts from Golden State, the New York Knicks no longer have a chance to contend in the Eastern Conference. They failed to lock up James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Joe Johnson, Carlos Boozer or any other top-tier free agent aside from Stoudemire. Essentially, they reached on a leadoff single, only to have the next three batters strike out to end the inning.

Had James chosen the Knicks? Perhaps they advance to Eastern Conference semifinals, or further. This would also spell disaster for the Rockets, as their draft pick swap would no longer yield much value.

Without James? Without a true superstar? The Knickerbockers will be struggling to avoid the lottery. This is something that should make everyone in Houston very, very happy.

The two draft picks that Houston acquired are often mislabled as two independent picks in addition to what the Rockets already have. This is not the case. In 2011, the Rockets will have the right to swap picks with the Knicks unless Donnie Walsh's club manages to somehow win the lottery. In 2012, the Knicks will give the Rockets their pick outright unless they draw within the top five. With the Knicks expected to target some of the top-tier free agents next season, the second pick may not be as attractive.

That first pick, though? She's a thing of beauty, especially now that LeBron won't land in the Big Apple.

Currently, New York's roster is packed with offensive weapons, yet shows zero signs of defensive ability. As weak as Mike D'Antoni's Phoenix Suns teams were on the defensive end, this club's 'D' could be historically bad. For now, the Knicks figure to be nothing more than a step above the Harlem Globetrotters. Plenty of entertainment, but zero defense - an equation that begs for a lottery birth.

That said, Walsh and Co. are not done configuring the Knicks' roster. They do have money to spend, and there still remain players available on the market that could help to improve the team.

But they won't have LeBron James. They won't have a superstar capable of guaranteeing a playoff birth. And this is what matters most to the Rockets. Whomever the Knicks are able to acquire either this summer or at the trade deadline -- as good as this mystery player might be -- he is not LeBron James.

For that, Rockets fans should be thankful. As much as you might dislike James for his arrogance throughout this entire process, you now owe him your gratitude. He likely won't notice his temporary contributions to the Rockets or to the city of Houston, which is fine. But because James chose Miami over New York, the Rockets have an even brighter future than before, whether they decide to keep the pick or use it in a trade.

Celebrate LeBron-to-Miami. Fist pumps all around.

For more, check out SB Nation's Rockets blog, The Dream Shake, or follow SB Nation Houston and TDS on Twittter.

Images by eflon used in background images under a Creative Commons license. Thank you.