When the Houston Rockets traded for James Harden, they immediately became one of the big players in the 2013 free agent market. They now have a young and talented nucleus which includes Harden, Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik and Chandler Parsons, and need just one more star to become a legitimate force in the Western Conference.
2013 will not be a repeat of the 2010 sweepstakes, but if a few players choose not to re-up with their current teams or opt out of contracts, then 2013 could have enough big names shifting cities to make Houston fans very happy.
This list will line up four players who could be available that would fit the Rockets and help them become a contender in the Western Conference.
It remains to be seen if Howard resigns with the Lakers after this season or opts to become a free agent, but if the current drama continues and the team does not find success, I find it hard to believe that he would hitch his wagon with an aging team over a bright young hope like the Rockets. For this reason, plus the fact that he is always bound to be the biggest name in free agency, I believe that Howard will opt for free agency after this season unless the Lakers become the world beaters they were supposed to be.
Howard would also instantly make the Houston Rockets a favorite in the Western Conference.
Everyone knows that he is the best defensive player in the league, and even hobbled with his back injury recovery he is making a difference for the Lakers. He is also a great offensive big man who can create with his back to the basket. He is also an elite rebounder, and combining Howard with Omer Asik in a front court would make the Rockets a nightmare to deal with on the glass.
However, what would make this such as perfect fit is Howard's proficiency as a pick and roll finisher. Both James Harden and Jeremy Lin are great at running the pick and roll, evidenced by the increased production of Omer Asik this season on the offensive end.
However, placing Dwight Howard as the screener would make this offensive pick and roll much more dangerous. His presence would give Lin and Harden more space, and his finishing at the rim is much better than Asik's.
This signing would also create a lot of positive press about the Rockets, which would only be a good thing for a young team. Adding a top five player in the NBA would give them a lot of self-belief, which would speed their development much like the Thunder's was.
In sum, this signing would make the Rockets a favorite to go deep into the playoffs.
Millsap has always been a low-profile player due to his small-market and his partnership with Al Jefferson. However, signing on with the Houston Rockets (otherwise known as the new Oklahoma City Thunder in terms of age and popularity) would do wonders to his reputation.
It would also do wonders for the team. Millsap is a versatile offensive threat who has a proven ability to score as a power forward from all over the floor.
Millsap is a very small power forward, standing just 6'8", although he is bulky which allows him to compete at the low post and rebound.
He also has a very versatile game with shooting range that extends out to the three point line and and the ability to be effective posting up, acting as the big man in pick and roll and pick and pop sets and facing up bigger and slower defenders to beat off the dribble or shoot over.
Millsap is not an elite defender, though, as he lacks the quickness to guard small forwards and the length to deal with power forwards. However, he is passable in this regard, and on a team with an elite defender at centre, his deficiencies should be more than made up for by his offensive and rebounding prowess.
The one issue with signing Millsap is the amount of young talent the Rockets have at power forward. Millsap is not a versatile player in terms of the positions he can play, and his presence on the Houston roster would soak up most of the minutes that could be filled by Marcus Morris, Terrence Jones, Royce White and Donatas Motiejunas.
While Millsap is better than all of these players, the Rockets would do better if they were able to find a star who could play centre or small forward and let their incredible depth at power forward develop.
The other half of the Utah Jazz front court, Jefferson is the elder statesman of low-post play in the NBA at the moment. Over his career, he has developed an incredible array of post moves which allow him to score very efficiently despite his lack of elite athleticism.
The 27 year old stands 6'10" but weighs nearly 290 lbs, and uses his bulk to excel at gaining position at the low post for rebounding or scoring. He is also a very capable shot blocker.
Jefferson is a bit of a liability on the defensive end when he is not blocking shots and he does not score at a very high efficiency for a player who operates so close to the basket with such an arsenal of moves. However, offensively he is very well rounded with this ability to hit open mid-range jumpers and score in the low post.
Jefferson is also a great pick and pop player due to his ability to nail jump shots. However, in the pick and roll he lacks the athleticism to be great when moving towards the hoop. This makes him a less attractive option than some other big men.
Despite his lack of athleticism and defensive struggles, Jefferson would probably mesh very well with the Houston roster. He has the ability to score easy points in games with his scoring ability in the low post and can run the pick and pop expertly, which would add another layer to their offense. Also, his defensive issues could be limited by playing him alongside Omer Asik, who can play power forward and is an elite defender.
Finally, because both Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson come from the same team, are hitting free agency at the same time, and are backed up by two highly promising young big men in Derrick Favours and Enes Kanter, one will surely hit the open market if Utah does not trade someone.
Admittedly, this is an unlikely fit. Iguodala has just moved to a great team and would have to opt out of his player option to become a free agent at the end of this season.
However, if the free agent market winds up being weaker than expected, he may take advantage and try to be the marquee player available. And, if he does not sign up for another year in Denver he would be a great fit for the Rockets starting lineup.
Iguodala has always been likened to a modern Scottie Pippen as an ultimate sidekick to a superstar. He is the best perimeter defender in the NBA who forces plenty of turnovers, he is a able and willing passer and he can score in a variety of ways without dominating the ball.
This especially would be a great fit for the Rockets, who already have two ball-handlers in James Harden and Jeremy Lin, and instead need players who can defend, pass, run in transition or cutting to the basket. This is what Iggy would do.
Iguodala would be able to play small forward in the starting lineup, and also shooting guard if Harden was on the bench. Also, by bolstering the perimeter where the Rockets are short on depth, it would probably make the strongest overall roster. They have a lot of talented young players in the front court, including Marcus Morris, Terrence Jones, Omer Asik and D-Mo, and therefore can create competent lineups as it is.
Iguodala would, in short, vastly improve the perimeter defense of the Rockets, as well as drawing some attention from James Harden while not upsetting the team's offensive balance, which could happen with some other big name guys who will want the ball in their hands.