Amid all the drama surrounding James Harden and Chris Paul, there are rumors that the Houston Rockets could be players for one of the NBA’s top free agents. Multiple reports suggest there is at least some mutual interest between Jimmy Butler and his hometown team.

Butler, a Houston-native, has spoken with Harden about the possibility of joining the Rockets, according to ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith. Just hours after Yahoo Sports’ Vincent Goodwill broke the news that Houston’s star backcourt no longer wants to play together, The Houston Chronicle’s Brian Smith reported the Rockets will aggressively pursue Butler.

The Rockets unsuccessfully tried to trade for Butler during this past season, offering the Minnesota Timberwolves a package that included four first-round picks, according to ESPN. Minnesota ultimately sent Butler to the Philadelphia 76ers.

Philadelphia and the Los Angeles Lakers have been viewed as the two most likely destinations for Butler. Houston wasn’t on the radar before this week because they have no space under the salary cap to even make Butler a competitive offer, let alone a max contract offer.

That means the Rockets can’t make a splash and simply sign the four-time All-Star in free agency. Houston has a chance to land Butler through a sign-and-trade, though it would require cooperation from the 76ers.

The 76ers are likely looking to keep Butler, who was their most reliable playoff performer, for the next several years. If Butler informs Philadelphia that he wants to be in Houston, it’s possible that the 76ers would help facilitate a deal in order to make sure they don’t lose the veteran for nothing.

That’s essentially how the Rockets acquired Paul. The point guard informed the Los Angeles Clippers that he wasn’t going to stay in L.A., so he picked up his player option and the team sent him to Houston, where he wanted to play.

In Houston’s ideal scenario, they might give up Paul in a sign-and-trade for Butler, considering Harden’s reported differences with the Rockets’ star and the $124 million Paul is owed over the next three seasons.

A Paul-for-Butler swap seems unlikely because of Paul’s contract. Philadelphia would have to pay Paul more than $44 million in the 2021-2022 season.

A more realistic sign-and-trade might include Clint Capela and Eric Gordon, who are owed a combined $30.5 million for the 2019-2020 season.

The Rockets have reportedly been pursuing trades for Paul and Capela. Houston’s big man is signed to a reasonable deal after averaging 16.6 points and 12.7 rebounds per game, but he was a non-factor down the stretch of playoff games against the Golden State Warriors.

There were many times this past postseason when Gordon, not Paul, was Houston’s second-best player. Gordon only has one year left on his contract. Philadelphia will probably have to sign Butler for at least four years at max dollars in order to keep him, which is a risk considering his injury history.

If Butler tells the 76ers that he doesn’t plan on re-signing, Philadelphia could opt to add Capela and Gordon in his place.

But that remains a big “if.”

The 76ers can guarantee Butler nearly $50 million more than any other team, and keeping him, even at that price, might make Philadelphia the favorites in the Eastern Conference.

Jimmy Butler 76ers Celtics
Jimmy Butler #23 of the Philadelphia 76ers drives to the basket on Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics during the first quarter of the game at TD Garden on December 25, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. Omar Rawlings/Getty Images