Jeremy Lin and James Harden need a versatile power forward to run with, and the Houston Rockets need look no further than Paul Millsap of the Utah Jazz.
According to Chad Ford of ESPN.com, Houston is likely to be active near the trade deadline as they continue their pursuit of an additional forward:
Hearing yes in a major way. They like their backcourt and feel that they are set at the five. Upgrading the 4 looks like the biggest priority … but could also look to upgrade at the 3 (though Chandler Parsons is having a good season). Rockets still have a number of young assets to offer.
Though the Rockets haven been one of the many teams linked to the Rudy Gay saga, the Memphis Grizzlies forward is a less than a perfect fit.
His presence would certainly allow Houston to run a one-in, four-out type system that spaces the floor for penetrators like Harden, Lin and Gay himself, but the latter gives the Rockets too many ball-dominators. Harden and Lin—two players who prefer to operate with the rock in hand—are still learning how to play off the ball effectively and defer to one another. Adding Gay—who is at his best with the rock in his hands as well—would simply be overkill.
Josh Smith would also be an intriguing target as he both spaces the floor and is a dominant post scorer, but the Atlanta Hawks are playing extremely well, suggesting that the risk of him leaving via free agency this summer is virtually nonexistent. And thus, barring a full-fledged collapse, that means the Hawks are unlikely to move him before the deadline.
The Jazz have a surplus of big man on the docket, two of which in Millsap and Al Jefferson will be unrestricted free agents at season’s end.
It has long been believed the Utah would move one of its talent bigs in an effort to open up the frontcourt rotation and capitalize off an inevitable departure. And as Marc Stein of ESPN.com points out, all signs continue to point to the Jazz doing just that:
It’s a working assumption in front offices all over the league that the Jazz will trade Jefferson or Millsap for a front-line point guard at some point in the next 10 weeks. For two reasons.
1. Jefferson and Millsap will be free agents in July, meaning Utah risks losing both without compensation if they’re still on the roster beyond Feb. 21.
2. Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter are the undeniable power players of the future in Utah, even though Jefferson is one of only six players this season averaging 17 and 10 — along with Tim Duncan, Dwight Howard, David Lee, Kevin Love and Zach Randolph — and despite Millsap’s status as the most productive forward from the 2006 draft not named LaMarcus Aldridge.
The challenge is trying to determine which of the two is most likely to move … unless you expect the Jazz to surprise us again and ship out both.
The handful of teams consulted by ESPN.com this week were split. Some nominate Millsap because he’s not at Jefferson’s All-Star level. Some nominate Jefferson because Millsap’s skill set theoretically meshes better with Favors and Kanter.
Here’s where it gets dicey. Utah hasn’t indicated which of the two it is more likely to deal. My personal money would be on Millsap. Jefferson is a borderline All-Star and could serve as a valuable mentor to budding towers like Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors. Plus, genuine centers are hard to find in the NBA nowadays, rendering Jefferson a rarity.
Which is great news for the Rockets, who should be jumping at the opportunity to even make an inquiry regarding Millsap’s availability.
Because in Millsap, we have a 27-year-old forward who is capable of scoring from anywhere on the court. His 14.6 points and 7.6 rebounds per game would be an instant upgrade over any power forward Houston currently has, and he allows the Rockets to experiment with a moderately-sized stretch 4 courtesy of his improving three-point prowess.
He’s also one of the more athletic big men in the league as well. He can run the floor, routinely plays above the rim and is a great defender in transition. More importantly, Millsap doesn’t need the ball in his hands to create for himself. Unlike most bigs, he’s comfortable weaving in and out of the paint, and spotting up for open jumpers.
Utah will undoubtedly looking for a handful of young players and a draft pick or two in any Millsap deal, furthering the notion the Rockets—the youngest team in the NBA—would be the perfect suitor and subsequent trade partner.
Almost needless to say, Lin and Harden would be thrilled, as would the rest of the Rockets at the prospect of the forward’s arrival.
Not enough credit is given to Millsap for all that he does on both ends of the floor. His shot-blocking remains a work-in-progress but otherwise, he’s a polished talent with star-esque potential who would further Houston’s current cause.
How much so?
To the point of championship contention.
Dan Favale is a firm believer in the three-pointer as well as the notion that defense doesn’t always win championships. His musings can be found at Bleacherreport.com in addition to TheHoopDoctors.com. Follow @danfavale on Twitter for his latest posts and all things NBA.