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5 Forwards Who Would Thrive Alongside Jeremy Lin and James Harden

Marshall ZweigContributor IIJanuary 25, 2013

5 Forwards Who Would Thrive Alongside Jeremy Lin and James Harden

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    Congratulations are certainly in order.

    And maybe a present as well.

    Big ups to Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden on being selected to appear in his first All-Star game. General manager Daryl Morey, if you want to get Harden a present, make it a teammate who could help Houston's favorite beard, along with backcourt mate Jeremy Lin, secure more victories.

    This roster has talent and cohesiveness. They just need a bit of help. And although help in the form of new offensive schemes from the coaching staff doesn't appear to be coming, help in the form of an athletic big who can score, rebound and help Omer Asik defend the interior might just be on Morey's gift list. The Rockets' current forwards, Patrick Patterson and Marcus Morris, have been something less than revelations at the 4.

    Nothing says congratulations like an upgrade that might propel the Rockets into the playoffs. (Take that, Hallmark.)

    Top on my gift list was Anderson Varejao, but since the curly-locked Cleveland Cavaliers power forward is out for the season—wishing you a complete recovery, Anderson—here are five alternative possibilities to fill his rather large shoes.

Royce White

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    How he'd help Jeremy Lin and James Harden: If he plays up to his potential, White would take the heat off the backcourt duo by adding an All-Star caliber talent the defense will have to account for. If, because of his youth, defenses don't account for him, White can theoretically make them pay in every way imaginable—scoring, rebounding, passing and defense.

    More about the player: This one's cheating, of course. White is already the property of the Houston Rockets.

    But be honest. Who among us was still holding out hope that White would suit up for Houston this year? I know I wasn't.

    According to the Houston Chronicle, White's camp proposed a list of protocols which would make him feel safe to play. The Rockets had issues with some of the requests, but the two sides appear to be nearing an agreement.

    I don't know what prompted this impending resolution, but perhaps it was the Rockets' suspending White indefinitely without pay. Meaning no disrespect to White's condition, I believe the lure of $3.3 million over two years might incent anyone to confront their fears.

    Regardless, White's game will strike fear into opponents. Officially, he's a small forward, but with his big body, White could roam the floor at power forward and be awfully tough to match up against. He runs fast, rebounds well, attacks the rim, can defend the 4, and passes the ball on a par with many point guards. Heck, he even handles the ball well—not that the Rockets need any more help in that department.

    If White joins the D-League on February 11, as he says is planned, expect him to be called up no later than mid-March.

    The missing piece the Rockets have been needing might have been a protocol away all along.

Derrick Williams

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    How he'd help Jeremy Lin and James Harden:  another legitimate scoring threat, with a sorely needed jumper good from 10 feet and beyond—a shot that neither Lin nor Harden sink with consistency—Williams would open up the floor for Harden.

    More about the player: This writer proposed Williams two months ago, when he was mired in Minnesota's doghouse and underperforming. At the time, Patrick Patterson's stock was high, as he was in the midst of a short-lived 20 PPG streak. The Minnesota Timberwolves had, by many accounts, all but declared Williams a bust, which I believed was ridiculous, since the kid had played just over a season's worth of NBA games.

    Since then, as I sensed would happen, Patterson has come crashing back to earth, and Williams has continued to improve his game.

    Williams is a tweener, meaning the Rockets won't get the lockdown defender they so desperately need. But his athleticism would make him a tough matchup at the 4, and would also make him a perfect fit with the Rockets' up-and-down-the-floor offense—which has been mostly down of late.

    Williams, relegated to the Wolves' bench earlier this season, has shown a Rockets-style attitude, choosing to work hard with Wolves assistant Shawn Respert after every practice instead of moping about his reduced playing time.

    Williams and Respert have run shooting and dribbling drills, plus put in time in the film room watching watching game tapes, while Respert offered suggestions to improve Williams' rebounding, shot selection, defensive work and decision-making with the ball.

    The result: Williams' minutes and points per game have nearly doubled, and his rebounding rate of 9.25 per 48 minutes to complement his offensive game would be a welcome addition.

    This is a long-term move. In other words, this is another young guy joining a team of young guys, and while this acquisition might not help the Rockets make the playoffs this year, Williams might help them be a perennial contender for years to come.

J.J. Hickson

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    How he'd help Jeremy Lin and James Harden: Hickson scoops up missed shots, which would help Lin as he works on his jumper, and provides a low-post threat for both men to pass to, which means he has to be accounted for down low. That will result in reduced focus on Harden during his drives.

    More about the player: First put onto my radar by one of my readers, J.J. Hickson is providing everything the Houston Rockets are craving. His rebounding is off the charts, and he has an uncanny knack for scooping up offensive misses. He scores with regularity and authority.

    He's not a natural to the Rockets' up-tempo offense. Hickson won't remind anybody of a Lamborghini. And because he's not as mobile as Anderson Varejao, he will mishandle some passes. But this is an example of a player Daryl Morey would target: undervalued and underappreciated.

    He'd also be relieved to stop playing center, where he's slightly undersized, and move to the 4.

    Finally, Hickson's got the Rockets' team-oriented attitude. He told csnnw.com, “I'm blessed to be in this the position and to know that I'm kind of a hot commodity right now. But all I can do is control what I can control on the basketball court and keep getting better.”

    Hickson's contract expires at the end of this season, so if the Rockets don't give up the farm for him (say Patrick Patterson plus picks), they can choose to either re-sign him or let him go, depending on his play.

    He's not a superstar, and never will be, but he will make Lin look more efficient, and Harden look less lonely on his drives to the basket.

Paul Millsap

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    How he'd help Jeremy Lin and James Harden: no more missed passes down low. Millsap's sure-handedness would help Omer Asik, which also gives Lin two more potential assist targetsIn addition, Millsap's consistent scoring would take some heat off of Harden.

    More about the player: It's still going to be feast or famine for the Houston Rockets with Millsap, because like Harden and Lin, his shots are either at the rim or beyond the arc. But Millsap rarely misses down low, hits with surprisingly regularity from downtown, and rebounds reasonably well for his position.

    Like Harden and Lin, Millsap is unselfish, notching 3.2 assists per 36 minutes. And like the rest of the Rockets, Millsap is a hard worker with a terrific attitude, who plays with energy and enthusiasm.

    The biggest challenge Millsap presents is his contract. It's big ($8 million), which is not a problem cap-wise, but is a problem when it comes to finding the matching salaries to actually obtain him. If Daryl Morey can somehow pull this one off, Millsap would be a coup for the Rockets.

Josh Smith

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    How he'd help Jeremy Lin and James Harden: Too much pressure on Harden? With Smith at power forward, Harden might instantly become option 1A. How's that for reduced pressure? Further, Josh's defensive presence, including shot-blocking and steals, would give Lin and Harden more opportunities to create in transition, where they both thrive.

    More about the player: All right, all right. I know I've said many times that, though Smith is massively talented, his attitude does not put him high on my Houston Rockets wish list. In addition, he's just an average rebounder for his position, and he's not a great long-range shooter. Statistically, he's as far away from the Daryl Morey model as John Boehner is from dinner at the Obama's.

    But beggars make poor choosers, and with eight losses in nine games, the Rockets are approaching destitute status.

    Smith's stock has arguably never been lower among general managers than it is following his suspension for conduct detrimental to his team. He'll still fetch a massive bounty in return for his services, but the Atlanta Hawks are much more likely to deal him now, rather than offer him as an attractive teammate for Dwight Howard or Chris Paul.

    Besides his attitude, there are two other major concerns for the Rockets in obtaining Smith prior to free agency.

    One, since his contract is expiring, there's no guarantee Smith will re-sign should the Rockets pick him up. But two, since his contract is massive ($13.2 million), I cannot begin to assemble the pieces the contract-poor Rockets could begin to give up to make this trade work.

    Again, Morey's the expert here. Maybe he can broker some magical three-way deal.

    But if Smith can come here, the Rockets would have their superstar—and with it, lofty expectations of how far they might go. He's still not my first or favorite choice to be a Rocket, but if he comes on board, you won't catch me complaining.

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