Playing Pursue or Pass with Houston Rockets' High-Profile Free-Agent Targets
With a solid nucleus of young players that led them to sneak into the Western Conference playoffs this year, and a decent amount of cap space, the Rockets can only get better when looking ahead toward next season.
This year's free-agent class is high on the quality of players at the top. There are many big names out there who may be looking for a new home in the 2013-14 season, and the Rockets have the potential to be players for all of them.
But who should the Rockets focus on pursuing in the offseason? Despite their talent, the Rockets are likely still more than just one player away from being title contenders.
Nevertheless, they can get that much closer if they can land a star player who fits the direction the team is going.
However, going after a big name that doesn't pan out could kill the momentum that the organization currently has built up.
Paul Millsap: Pursue
For whatever reason, Paul Millsap rarely gets the love he deserves when talking about the best NBA big men.
Millsap has been a consistent force in the Utah Jazz frontcourt over the past five seasons, and this year was no different as he averaged his usual 14.6 points per game to go along with 7.1 rebounds.
As Bleacher Report's own Roy Burton mentions in this piece, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is crazy about advanced stats, and Paul Millsap's PER (Player Efficiency Rating) was in the top 30 of the league this past season, better than many of the NBA's elite big men, including Dwight Howard.
Millsap would fit in great with the Rockets' style of play and would be a huge rebounding force paired along with Omer Asik to clean up the misses of the Rockets perimeter shooters. Plus, Millsap could be great in a pick-and-roll scenario with James Harden or Jeremy Lin.
While Millsap may not be on the top of the Rockets' priority list, it would be smart for Morey to keep tabs on the former Louisiana Tech standout as the offseason progresses.
Al Jefferson: Pass
Everyone knows that the Houston Rockets can flat-out score.
The Rockets were the second-highest scoring team in the league and just missed out on Denver's first place mark by .01 points per game.
With their free-flowing offense and plethora of scoring options, the Rockets can bring it night in and night out on offense, which is the primary reason they were able to be a playoff team.
Defensively, however, the Rockets don't quite have the same success.
Houston was the third-worst NBA team in opponents' points per game, giving up over 102 per contest. Looking forward, the Rockets absolutely must tighten up their defense if they want to jump into the upper echelon of the Western Conference.
Al Jefferson would not help them do that.
While the Jazz power forward certainly is an elite offensive player, he is simply put a bad defender.
The Rockets cannot afford to put that much money into a free agent who won't help them on the defensive side of the ball.
While the prospect of adding another elite scorer to an already studded lineup may seem tempting, the Rockets would be much smarter to hold off and find a better defensive big man in free agency.
Josh Smith: Pass
At first glance, Josh Smith may seem like the perfect fit for the Houston Rockets, but if you examine closer, you can see that there are better options available.
Houston's first priority will be signing either Chris Paul or Dwight Howard (we'll get to them in a bit), but if the team isn't able to land either of those players, it may very well go after Smith.
Smith's skill set seems to fit the Houston label. He can get up and down the floor and score in transition. He is a good help defender and can jump out of the gym.
Smith is a star, but he has never quite gotten over the hump into superstar status during his time with the Atlanta Hawks.
Nevertheless, that won't stop Smith from requesting teams to give him a max contract if they wish to sign him as a free agent.
The Houston front office needs to think long and hard about whether or not Josh Smith is worth that kind of money.
In the event of them missing out on a Chris Paul or Dwight Howard, the Rockets may feel the need to make a knee-jerk decision and sign Smith just to keep their fanbase happy, but it would be a mistake.
Smith certainly is talented, but in the event of the team missing out on its primary targets, Houston would be smarter to go after a lower-level player like Paul Millsap, and in the meantime try to save up for a run at the 2014 free-agent class, which could include Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony.
Chris Paul: Pursue
In the NBA, sometimes you need to be a little bit greedy.
If their dream comes true this offseason, the Rockets could build a Big Three of their own in the near future.
To go along with James Harden, The Houston Chronicle‘s Jonathan Feigen is now reporting the Rockets are now not only attempting to lure Dwight Howard, but Chris Paul as well.
The obvious question here is: why not?
Sure, the idea of Paul leaving a very good Los Angeles Clippers team to come to Houston may seem unlikely, and the financial aspect of bringing in two superstar players is complicated to say the least. But if the Rockets feel like they have a legitimate chance at bringing both of them in, why not try?
It goes without saying what bringing in a Chris Paul would do to the already tremendous Rockets offense.
Paul is one of, if not the best point guards in the league, and with all due respect to Jeremy Lin, he would be a significant upgrade for Houston at that position.
Even if the Rockets could bring in Paul without Dwight Howard it still elevates them to very close to the top of the NBA power rankings, as Paul is that good of a talent.
Dwight Howard: Pursue
We know that after the 2011-12 season Dwight Howard needed a change of scenery. Well, now it looks like he needs one again.
Howard's only season in Los Angeles was a disaster as he put up only pedestrian numbers and his Lakers team drastically underperformed.
We know that Dwight is interested in the Rockets this offseason, but the question is, should they still be interested in him?
Howard's on-the-court talents are without question. He is the most dominant center in the game today, and his ability to score, rebound and defend puts him on an entirely different level than any Rockets big man since Hakeem Olajuwon (yes, including Yao Ming).
But—and there is a but—Howard's immaturity, lack of ability to mesh with coaches and teammates, and constant flip-flopping about his long-term plans have turned many of his former supporters aside.
So is he worth the risk and potential headache?
The Rockets can't afford to say no. When the opportunity to bring in a transcendent player comes about, a franchise can't sit idly by and watch him go somewhere else, even if there are some questions about his off-the-court antics.
Besides, there wouldn't seem to be much for Howard to complain about. He has a great coach in Kevin McHale, an excellent young team with a dynamic perimeter player in James Harden and a great sports town that will support him without putting the pressure on him that he had in Los Angeles.
It remains to be seen if the Houston Rockets will sign Dwight Howard, but it is their duty to do everything in their power to try.