Russ Isabella-US PRESSWIRE
With Jeremy Lin, James Harden, and Omer Asik the Rockets have a young core that has the potential to contend for a championship if the right pieces are brought in. Chandler Parsons is no slouch and the stockpile of young power forwards on the roster is worth gambling on but to make that jump to the highest level Daryl Morey is going to have to surprise us one more time.
One of the most logical ways to improve the roster significantly is in the free agency where the Rockets will have enough cap space to offer one max contract (in addition to extending Harden to a max contract). In the years prior to Beardsanity, Houston has not been an attractive free agent destination. Whether we were one Yao injury from being irrelevant or in the middle of a subtle rebuild, transitioning players like Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony (who were pursued with vigor) were simply not interested. Today, the Houston Rockets have one of the most exciting and dynamic backcourts in the league and two young household names in Jeremy Lin and James Harden. Let's take a look at who we might be able to woo into suiting up in Rockets red this upcoming summer (or sooner) who fits with our current "core".
Big Al is one of my favorite players to watch. On January 4th, Al Jefferson will be 28 years old and this summer he's going to look for one last max payday. This is the one guy in the league who you could make an argument for being a better post player than Luis Scola (in his prime). He's spent a little too much time in Utah for my liking, and he can be a bit ball dominant. Jefferson is often criticized as being a black hole and a guy who puts up empty numbers. The same was often said about Zach Randolph before he lead his Memphis Grizzlies to one of the most glorious playoff upsets in recent memory. Big Al can play either center or power forward and sliding him into a starting line up next to Omer Asik might be a perfect way to cover his defensive faults.
Smith is a known commodity. Elite defender. Elite shot-blocker. Elite dunker. He has the ability to play either the three or the four (although I'm not crazy about Smith at small forward) and he can space the floor inconsistently. Having Omer Asik and Josh Smith in the patrolling the paint would make life very difficult for penetration friendly teams (like the Heat). A Josh Smith and Chandler Parsons combo would allow us to guard almost any big two or big three super group (with the help of Asik) in the league. Who knows, maybe Kevin McHale can teach this guy how to own the post on offense too.
Bynum is third on my list not because of skill but rather because of his fit and his health. While any team could stand to benefit from a hulking 7'1 big man who is a mismatch for all but one or two centers in the league, I don't think Andrew Bynum is the answer to taking this team to the next level. Even setting aside the injury history, Bynum has some maturity issues on and off of the court that could be a huge distraction for our younger team. There won't be a Kobe Bryant to slap Bynum out of his whiny, three point shooting charade and if there's one thing that an athlete can do to get on my shit list, it's this. If Andrew Bynum can keep it clean on the court, stay healthy, and play to his strengths there is no question that he would take this Rockets team to a championship contending level. I, for one, think that there are too many ifs involved to say that he's the answer right now.
Iggy would be higher on my list if I thought he was likely to exercise the early termination option on his contract this summer. I think Andre signs with the Nuggets long term either way - that team is a superb fit for him and he gets to be the star. In Houston, Andre would be asked to play small forward (not really his natural position) and probably be third in the offensive pecking order. Having pointed out the unlikelihood, this article is meant to focus on Daryl pulling off a miracle so lets take a moment to appreciate just how welcomed a guy like Andre Iguodala would be. Iggy is the perfect defender. This guy was used during last summer's United States gold winning olympic basketball team as a defensive assassin. Mike Krzyzewski would sub Dre in tactfully to force turnovers and steals. People like to refer to Andre Iguodala as a poor man's LeBron James but I think he's more accurately a lower upper class man's (is this a thing?) LBJ.
Now let's talk briefly about two not-so-great fit free agents. Chris Paul is the best point guard in the league. If Daryl has a shot at signing CP3, you better believe he will take it, but I don't think we'll be hearing anything along those lines. The last thing Houston wants to do after stealing Jeremy Lin away from New York is turn around and generate rumors about his replacement less than a year after he has inked his contract. I think Chris Paul wants to be in a major market and I think he's likely to stay in LA depending on how well the Clippers fare in the playoffs this season. Manu Ginobili is another free agent who any championship contender could use, but he really doesn't fit with our team and I'm sure he'll take a pay cut to stay on the best coached team in the league.
Finally, let us examine the wild cards. These are the players who are signed to longer term deals but might ask for a trade if their respective teams don't start winning more games. I'm more excited about the talent on this list than the actual free agent list.
I love me some LaMarcus Aldridge. At 27, Aldridge is in his athletic prime and has been the franchise core of the Trail Blazers for a few years now. LaMarcus has spent most of his life in Texas where he was born, raised, and went to college. Aldridge is a prolific scorer who was doubted as anything more than a jump shooter when he first entered the league. LMA responded by proving he's a legit low post threat capable of playing minutes at center and dominating during his 2012 all star run. Aldridge would be a better fit for our team than any other power forward I've mentioned so far and he's knee deep in a rebuild that doesn't look like it's going anywhere in the next two to three years. The Trail Blazers have a stud young point guard who is already entrenched in the conversation for rookie of the year in Damian Lillard but I don't think the Blazers are going to crack 30 wins this season or the next without a significant upgrade. I've got my fingers crossed for a terrible season in Portland.
It's no secret that the Timberwolves see Rubio as more of a franchise player than Kevin Love. David Kahn has done his best, God bless him, to field a playoff bound team this season and brining in Rick Adelman (and some of Rick's favorite toys) is a good start. Injuries are a problem this season for the Twolves already. Brandon Roy has played well in preseason but his knees are still a question mark long term. If Minnesota fails miserably to make the playoffs this season you better believe that Kevin Love and his agent are going to have some heated conversations with David Kahn. Love would fit great with the Rockets. He would stretch the floor, provide a lot of offense, and make the Rockets a top three rebounding team. I think Kevin Love is the best player I've mentioned thus far for the Houston Rockets but I don't think we have the assets to trade for him anymore. It's going to be very difficult to pull off a Love to Houston trade without involving Jeremy Lin or James Harden.
There are several other players out there in potentially bad situations, but I've tried to focus on the the names I think would add the most to the Houston Rockets. My question to you is this: who else might become available this season or next that would take Houston's young core to the next level?