Daryl Morey, much like Captain Ahab, has been hunting his great white whale--the superstar player he's wanted--ever since Yao Ming hurt himself against the Lakers in the 2009 playoffs. No one can deny that Morey has pieced together a bunch of solid players that play the game hard and do an admirable job, but without that superstar they're all playing a rung ahead of where they should be. Kevin Martin is a great scorer, but he isn't the best at creating his own shot. Luis Scola is a fine secondary option, but it hurts him to have to carry the entire inside scoring load. Kyle Lowry and Aaron Brooks are a very good point-guard rotation, but they aren't going to be able to carry a team on their backs to get points in the last two minutes of a game.
The Rockets are a team built around a superstar that isn't there. Which is fitting, because during the early Yao-McGrady years, they were a team built around two superstars with no supporting cast.
So Morey is going to continue questing for his white whale. He went after Chris Bosh, he nearly acquired Amare Stoudemire at the trade deadline last year, and there isn't a GM in the NBA that will work harder than Morey to accomplish the quest. But what happens when he gets there?
Carmelo Anthony is the biggest star available. He wants out of Denver, and Denver can no longer count on New Jersey to accommodate their every whim, so his price could be coming down. Chicago and New York, are frequently mentioned as landing spots for his services because the belief is that Anthony would sign a long-term extension to play for them.
The problem with that line of logic is that the team that trades for Anthony will have almost all of the leverage. Think about why Anthony and his agent want a trade to happen now: an NBA lockout is nearly a foregone conclusion at this point. While nobody can guess at the total outcome of labor strife, NBA owners are expected to, short-sightedly in this author's opinion, pursue further salary drops for players. It's anyones guess as to how successful they'll be, but it would sure make a lot of sense for a player to sign any kind of salary extension he can now, while the old rules are in place, rather than hope it all comes out for the best on the bargaining table.
Thus, Anthony stands to lose a lot of money should a trade not work out in his best interests. On paper, Anthony is a terrific fit for the Rockets, who need a high-volume scorer with his sort of talent badly. Should they trade for him and have his deal expire, the Rockets won't exactly be left uncompensated. As Mike Kerns pointed out in this piece he wrote yesterday, Toronto and Cleveland were given plenty of draft picks and large trade exceptions for losing Bosh and LeBron James to the Heat this offseason. While it's likely that the Rockets would wind up giving up more for Anthony than they would get back should he choose not to re-sign here, Morey is one of the best GM's in the NBA at stockpiling assets. Should the Rockets manage to trade for Anthony, it would be a coup anyway by the logic that replenishing assets plays right to Morey's strength.
The bigger question is Anthony himself. While Adrian Wojnorowski says that the Rockets would deal for Anthony with or without an extension, the real question is: do the Rockets think Anthony is bluffing? We can hear every anonymous source in the world gab about how he'll only sign an extension in a certain city, but as far as leverage goes, he has none. His options would be a) accept an extension for the most he can get in a city that would love him and fill a huge area of need or b) gamble that the NBA lockout doesn't hurt his earning power as a free agent next year. I don't have any inside sources or anything, but I find it a little hard to believe that Anthony would willingly give up safe money just to play in a big city in the East.
Either way, the pursuit of Anthony is absolutely the smart move for Morey. The only question is: will the great white whale destroy him when he catches up to it, or will he actually land his keeper?