After years of just missing out on the playoffs, the Houston Rockets finally appear to have gotten the formula right. Guards Jeremy Lin and James Harden provide a reliable 1-2 punch, and their teammates all chip in as necessary. However, the Rockets are still one piece short of becoming a Western Conference powerhouse.
As talented as the team is, Houston has a glaring hole at power forward. Nothing against Marcus Morris and Patrick Patterson, but neither man has the toughness the Rockets need at the position. They can both stretch the floor well, but are hit or miss when it comes to defense.
Fortunately for team GM Daryl Morey, there are plenty of options available on the trade market. Even better is that the Rockets have plenty of trade chips available, from the aforementioned Morris and Patterson to youngsters like Terrence Jones and Greg Smith.
Any or all of these players can be used to make a deal that helps push Houston that extra mile. It may not bring them a championship this year, but will definitely help make Harden and Lin an even more dynamic duo now that a third musketeer will be in the mix as well.
All statistics in this article are accurate as of Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Gasol is currently stuck in the worst season of his career, posting a career low 12.2 points and 8.4 rebounds per game, and is struggling mightily in the fast-paced system of Mike D'Antoni. He has expressed his frustration with his role and if the Lakers continue to underachieve and fall further out of the playoff picture, perhaps GM Mitch Kupchak will start working the phones to field offers.
Gasol could definitely be a good fit in the Rockets' system, but Morey must first understand what he is taking on. The Spanish seven-footer is 32 years old, but age is starting to creep up on him. Gasol has missed a total of 13 games due to injury this season, and that number will likely grow in future seasons.
Moreover, the man is owed just under $19.3 million next season. For someone whose skills are declining and injuries are becoming an issue, that's a lot of money.
Just the same, the Rockets are a young team who need a veteran leader in the locker room and on the court. Gasol has years of playoff experience under his belt, plus two championship rings, and can definitely provide the leadership Houston needs. If Morey is willing to take the risk, then the man can definitely be a good fit.
When the Minnesota Timberwolves drafted Williams with the second overall pick in the 2011 draft, they thought they were getting an explosive power forward who could also be something of a force on offense. He was somewhat undersized at 6'8", 241 pounds, but his 19.5 points and 8.3 rebounds his sophomore year at Arizona screamed potential.
On the NBA level, Williams has been a general disappointment. He is a stretch 4 who likes to create off the dribble, but Minnesota coach Rick Adelman wants him to be more of a true defensive forward. In his NBA career, Williams has averaged just 8.9 points and 4.6 rebounds while shooting 42 percent from the field.
In Houston, Williams could thrive in McHale's run-and-gun style. He would be allowed some freedom with the ball, allowing his offensive skills to fully blossom as he reached his full potential. Defensively, he could use his size to become a force on the inside, like Shawn Marion was in his days with the Phoenix Suns.
More importantly, Williams would come quite cheap. He hasn't done much in Minnesota, so team GM David Kahn would not be in a position to demand Morey give up a ton of draft picks and/or young players. No matter how you look at it, this potential deal can only help Houston.
The Utah Jazz keep falling further and further out of the Western Conference playoff picture, which means that GM Ted Lindsey is likely going to trade either Paul Millsap or Al Jefferson at the trade deadline. If Millsap becomes available, Morey needs to call Lindsey and start negotiating immediately.
Millsap does not have much size for a power forward at 6'8", but his 253 pound frame allows him to be an excellent presence in the low-post. He is averaging 14.9 points and 7.7 rebounds on the season, and he has proven that he can be a great defender on the NBA level.
Houston would be a great fit for Millsap for exactly that reason. The Rockets rank last in the NBA in points allowed, with 103.7 per game, and Millsap's ability to force his man out of his comfort zone will help them improve in that very category. He could also help them rise up the rebounding ladder, where they currently rank 11th.
Millsap is also an expiring contract, so there is no guarantee that he would remain in Houston after this season. However, if he does well with the team and helps them make some noise in the playoffs, that could give him some extra incentive to stay.
Shawn Marion falls into the same category as Gasol, regarding power forwards for whom the Rockets should trade. He is 34 years old, but is unlike Gasol enough that Morey should consider making a deal for him.
Not only is Marion cheaper than Gasol, with a salary of $9.3 million next season, but he can also opt out of his current contract after this season and become a free agent. Moreover, despite his age, he continues to be a solid performer. Marion is averaging 10.4 points and 8.2 rebounds on the season, and has played excellent defense, per usual.
Given how the Mavericks are currently out of the Western Conference playoff picture at the moment, trading Marion is something that team management could definitely entertain if the team continues to slip. Should he leave Dallas for Houston, the man will be a great fit on the young Rockets.
Not only will the man be a great leader, but he will also be a phenomenal fit in Kevin McHale's system. Marion has plenty of experience playing in a run-and-gun offense from spending eight-and-a-half seasons playing for the Phoenix Suns, four and a half of which were in the signature game of offensive guru Mike D'Antoni.
He's a bit undersized for power forward at 6'7", 228 pounds, but Marion is a strong enough athlete that his overall defensive skills will more than make up for it. He has championship experience and plenty of playoff games under his belt, so he would be a perfect fit for the Rockets this season and perhaps more to come.
Though he has been the team's best player this season, Josh Smith's time with the Atlanta Hawks may soon be coming to a close. The team recently suspended him for "conduct detrimental to the team" and according to Ken Berger of CBS Sports, Smith has felt "a lot of frustration" with the team's recent slump. Berger also reported that Smith's agent recently met with Atlanta GM Danny Ferry, and did everything except request a trade.
Simply put, Morey MUST get Ferry on the phone and ask about Smith. The Rockets have the pieces necessary to make a deal, and Smith would be an excellent fit for the team.
Smith's scoring numbers this season may seem a bit modest at 16.5 points per game, but his defensive stats are highly respectable. Not only has he posted 8.3 rebounds, but he also has registered 2.3 blocks per contest. For someone 6'9", 225 pounds, those are excellent averages.
By moving from Atlanta's slower isolation game to Houston's fast-paced approach, Smith would be able to blossom in a larger market and finally become the All-Star he was destined to be. His contract is up after this season, but playing well in Houston after this year's trade deadline would give him plenty of incentive to stay there on his next deal.
That would be the ultimate blessing for the Rockets, who could definitely use an explosive power forward like Smith to take some of the pressure off of Harden and Lin. If they could land him and also convince him to sign a long-term deal, the team would be borderline set for the next few seasons.