Today is June 10th. Free agency starts on July 1 -- players can sign contracts on July 8. Which means we have at least another three weeks of speculation about Chris Paul's future. And some of that speculation is going to get pretty silly.
The Rockets currently have over $30M in salary next season tied up in three players they signed last year -- James Harden ($13.7M), Jeremy Lin ($8.4M) and Omer Asik ($8.4M). The salary cap for next season is projected to be about $58.5M. Meanwhile, Howard will be eligible for a contract starting at over $20M and Paul will be eligible for over $18M. Just some quick math tells you that Houston would be over the cap with just those five players -- and that's ignoring the four other guaranteed contracts currently on the roster, the sundry other partially guaranteed contracts, and any roster holds that count against the cap. Even if Houston were somehow able to manage to move every other contract without taking anything back, they'd still have to account for at least seven roster holds.
All of which means that one of two things would have to happen for Howard AND Paul to join the Rockets together:
1) The superstars would have to sign at a discount to allow the Rockets to stay under the cap (this would be in addition to the money they'd be forfeiting in the form of larger annual raises and an additional season if they were to re-sign with their current LA teams);
2) The Rockets would have to trade Asik or Lin or Harden without taking any salary back.
I suppose either of those is possible. LeBron and Wade and Bosh all sacrificed a little money to accommodate the cap math in Miami (though not this much). And it's not impossible to imagine moving Asik if Howard can be had.
So sure, it could happen, and Daryl Morey is a bright and aggressive dude who wouldn't hesitate to make some bold moves. But let's just be clear what we're talking about. In order for Houston to thread the needle on a Paul/Howard package, they're either getting a HUGE discount from those guys, or moving one of their big contracts (that's in addition to moving a bunch of small contracts of course). And by the way, the Rockets have to waive Carlos Delfino and Aaron Brooks by June 30th to avoid having those contracts become guaranteed -- a decision they'd have to take before ever being able to actually speak with Paul or Howard. Then again, Delfino and Brooks are the easy parts.
So this isn't a matter of dumping Thomas Robinson in a cap clearing move; it's much, much more complicated than that.
Look, I've been wrong before. I didn't believe there was any chance that Elton Brand would leave the Clippers in 2008 because no other team had the combination of cap space and a better situation necessary to lure him away. I was right about that part of course -- the situation in Philadelphia certainly wasn't better, as Elton soon found out. But I was wrong about whether he would leave. People do surprising, counter-intuitive, even illogical things all the time. I was wrong about Brand -- I'll be wrong again at some point in the future. (I can guarantee that, because if I'm not wrong about anything else, then I will have been wrong about not being wrong again.)
We're going to see these stories. Houston wants Paul and Howard. Dallas wants Paul. Atlanta wants both. Brand went to Philly in part to be closer to family; Atlanta is a lot closer to North Carolina than L.A. is. So there may be some valid reasons that Paul could leave the Clippers.
But we should at least try to view the rumors in the proper light. When Jonathan Feigen writes in the Houston Chronicle:
The Rockets would have work to do to create enough salary-cap room - the first season of Howard's contract could be worth as much as $20.5 million; Paul's could start at $18.7 million. But they have little concern that they would be able to offer a max contract.
Trading Thomas Robinson, a 6-10 forward, is considered the most likely means to get enough cap room, but according to a person with knowledge of their plans, "there are about 20 other ways."
it's misleading at best and a flat out lie at worst. Note that he says "they have little concern they would be able to offer A max contract" -- it doesn't say two max contracts. So Feigen covers himself in a dishonest way -- he writes 300 words on the glorious concept of adding Howard and Paul, and then switches to just one contract when it's time to explain how it might possibly happen. The Rockets might have to move Robinson just to have the room to add Howard; they'd be forced to move Robinson and most of the rest of their roster to be able to afford Howard and Paul. Are there 20 ways? Not 20 realistic ways. There aren't any realistic ways.