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Should Houston make a run at Gasol, Smith, or Millsap?

The Houston Rockets have their future set at four positions. For all intents and purposes, Jeremy Lin (24 years old), James Harden (23), Chandler Parsons (24), and Omer Asik (26) are stable, improving building blocks/players/trade assets that one way or another are capable of evolving into a championship worthy foundation.

But something’s missing: a forward who can defend his position, rebound on both ends, and lift at least 25% of the offensive burden from James Harden’s sagging shoulders. Asik is wonderful, but the Rockets need a player in their frontcourt who they can run their offense through for extended stretches of time; another option when opposing teams trap Harden as soon as he puts the ball on the floor; a player talented enough to slow down Houston’s pace when absolutely necessary without making the decision to do so feel like a mistake.

Between now and the trade deadline, Houston’s front office would be wise to explore a deal that would land them one of the select few players like this that makes both financial and basketball sense. Big sorry to Zach Randolph (who would mortgage the future with his contract: $17.8 million guaranteed next year and a $16.5 million player option in 2015), LaMarcus Aldridge (whose value has skyrocketed thanks to Portland’s surprising record and a second straight All-Star berth), DeMarcus Cousins (understandably off limits), and Kevin Love (a tantalizing dream…at the moment). For their own respective and numerous reasons, none of these guys are worth analysis at the moment.

But the three guys below? They’re all realistic grabs, and the Rockets would be more than thrilled to have one. Here are the options.

 

3. Pau Gasol

One of the two or three best low post scorers in the game? Or a rapidly declining loafer who’ll never again reach the lofty 2010 playoff heights that solidified his case as an eventual Hall of Famer? Who will Pau Gasol be if he’s traded to another team? That is the question.

Before we pull this curtain back too far, it should be mentioned that it would be extremely difficult for the Rockets and Lakers to pull off a deal involving Gasol without involving another team. His contract is an absolute monster, and without giving up Lin/Harden/Asik/Parsons it’d be difficult matching salaries without bordering on the absurd.

Anyway, as I’m sure you remember, Gasol was supposed to be a member of the Rockets two years ago. Things didn’t work out, stuff happened; he stayed in Los Angeles. But what we know from this situation is that at one point in time Daryl Morey liked Gasol’s game. That interest has since waned, with his declining play and rising age.

What we’ve seen so far this season is as close to a tragedy as anything related to basketball strategy can be. In effect, Mike D’Antoni has chosen his own system over Gasol’s ability to score with his back to the basket. A lot of people find this silly, while others can get behind it as a “good for the team” type of personnel move.

I, for one, cannot. Gasol has been placed on the bench in favor of Earl Clark, a 25-year-old journeyman who’s made seven three-pointers in his career and appears to have already reached the absolute peak of his basketball playing life. As a result, Gasol’s trade value has sunk to such sickly depths, that Sylvester Stallone has inquired about developing the situation into a 138 minute long feature film.

But with Gasol’s trade value floating in a toilet, and there only being one more year on his once-sizable contract, the timing might be right for Houston to strike a low-risk deal.

The Rockets could use a low-post scorer like Gasol, there’s no doubt. Either pairing him with Omer Asik or bringing Asik off the bench. The scenarios that could invigorate Gasol’s career in Houston are plentiful. And having an offensive presence like him on the court would lessen Harden’s insane amount of responsibility. Also, Lin would have a pick-and-roll partner who’s more than capable of knocking down a 16-footer, and the team’s depth would thicken considerably.

Right now Gasol’s averaging the fewest points per 36 minutes of his career, 3.1 fewer than last season (which until now was his career low). His rebounding numbers aren’t good by his standards, and the 15.5 PER would also be a career worst. (Wait, did I mention the 41.3% field goal percentage? Guess what that is? You got it…a career low!

On the other side, he’s only 32 years old, not 35 or 37 (Hi, Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan), and when you watch him play, the fundamental ability is evident. It’s the energy, passion, and general willingness to try that’s lost. The Rockets love shooting three-pointers, and adding a big man of Gasol’s ability would only make attempting shots from behind the arc easier and more abundant.

 

2. Josh Smith

The rope that holds an imaginary anvil over Josh Smith’s imaginary market value stretches thinner and thinner each time he scrapes an arena’s ceiling with a crescent moon looking 20-footer. According to math, just over seven out of every 10 of these shots does not go through the hoop.

He’s cut down on the long-two volume, but Smith still attempts just under five shots from 10-23 feet per game. That number is gruesome.

But hey, nobody’s perfect. Nearly everything else about Smith’s game is desirable. And when you take into account his age (he’ll still be 27 on opening night next season), the thought of bringing him into the fold as a still-developing bundle of talent is intriguing.

If the Rockets wanted, they could deal for him before the deadline, examine how well he plays beside Harden, Lin, Asik, and Parsons (assuming none are included in the deal), then either let him walk or sign him long-term. Getting Smith would dramatically increase Houston’s odds at a playoff spot this season, and adding him to the rest of the team’s young core could be gold.

What’s great about this is the little risk on Houston’s end. If they don’t like what they see, Smith becomes a free agent over the summer, so by trading for him they wouldn’t be locking themselves into a long-term contract.

It depends on what they give up, as Grantland.com’s Zach Lowe pointed out last week. Why trade for Smith, and lose current assets/players/draft picks, when they can just pursue him over the summer as a free agent.

I believe trading for him is the wiser route to go down for two reasons: 1) Free agency is a gamble, and if the Rockets are serious about acquiring Smith, why risk him signing with another team in free agency? The Suns, Hawks, and Mavericks will also be vying for his services (especially if Smith’s interested in signing a one-year deal).

2) If they get him in a trade, the Rockets will have half a season (and possible a playoff series or two) to watch Smith mesh with Harden/Asik/Lin/Parsons. It won’t be a lot of time, but anything’s better than nothing.

To some degree, how Smith meshes is less relevant than how he fits into Houston’s offensive philosophy. Right now they love running, shooting threes, avoiding long twos, and attacking the rim. Smith is shooting 78% at the rim (up 10% from last season) but everywhere else his efficiency has been decrepit (you’re familiar with the shooting term 40/50/90? Smith is currently 31/44/52 after rounding up).

If he comes to Houston, will he finally stop aggravating the advanced stats community by launching those miserable jumpers? (The Rockets average 11 shots from 16-23 feet per game, good for lowest in the league.) Will he take even more three-pointers? Could he lead the league in blocks roaming the weak side while Asik locks down the paint? All questions are difficult to answer, but it’d be fun to have a look and see what happens.

 

1. Paul Millsap

Similar to Josh Smith, Paul Millsap is currently playing this season out on an expiring contract. And similar to Gasol, he’s primarily useful in the post. Millsap is strong down there, and one of the best in the league at darting to the block then quickly sealing off his defender directly beneath the rim.

Over a fifth of all his offensive possessions are utilized in post-up situations. And according to Synergy Sports, he’s the 35th most efficient player in the league when he gets there.

Millsap is a good fit for most of the same reasons as Smith: He’s entering his prime (28 years old when next season starts), and if acquired in a trade before the deadline would effectively serve the rest of this season as a catalyst that all but guarantees the Rockets a spot in the playoffs.

A few differences between Millsap and Smith: Millsap’s salary is lower ($8.6 million), making acquiring him easier (fewer pieces needed to go out). Also the Jazz have a lower need/want of re-signing him in the offseason thanks to their Derrick Favors/Enes Kanter duo, giving Houston more leverage in any deal. (What about Carlos Delfino, Patrick Patterson and Terrence Jones/Donatas Motiejunas/a future first round pick? Maybe it’s wishful thinking, especially when you consider Utah’s probable unwillingness to deal Millsap to a team that’s fighting them for a playoff spot.)

Also, what’s cool about Millsap is he’s shown some semblance of range! (Not really, but he’s currently 41.4% on threes and two years ago he went 3-3 from behind the arc in a 46 point effort against Miami. So, yea.). Can he replicate that sharp shooting in a system that encourages it, like Houston did with Patterson and Morris? That’s difficult to say, and shouldn’t be factored as a weighty reason to trade for him. But Millsap’s actual strengths (being physical, an above average defender, and nearly an All-Star caliber forward at times) are definitely intriguing. He’s far and away the best upgrade Houston can realistically make in these next few weeks.

Twitter: @MichaelVPina

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Total comments: 14
  • phaketrash says 1 YEAR ago People seem to complain so much about Gasol not being a future piece, so therefore pass. Who this offseason IS a future piece? Cousins is not going to be moved any time soon since the new owners will want to "take stock" and the real good FAs are in 2014 and 2015. Gasol's contract ends in 2014. He wouldn't help us win a championship, but we'd go deep, which is VERY GOOD experience for our developing players. They get better through winning rather than losing. Les would also love it because he's a businessman. This helps him make more money without giving up on longterm championship goal.

    Again, the only other alternative that makes our team that much better while allowing us to retain 2014/2015 flexibility is a flurry of small moves or no moves. That's a viable strategy, but it seems to get us to the same place but with fewer wins in between lol. 2013 FA sucks.
  • datruth says 1 YEAR ago Asik is a defensive presence on a horrible defensive team. Not sure Lin problems are on Lin or Mchale. Gasol, Smith will cost 20 million and a lot of questions. Millsap is more of a team player doesn't mind getting dirty and tough. Asik can't catch a cold in the paint. The main problem with this team is Mchale. If you gauge this team talent compared to other teams in the nba they are in a good position. If you compare this team coaching compared to the others teams in the nba. This team is at the bottom.
  • blakecouey says 1 YEAR ago Asik hasn't had near the bad stretch that Lin has. A week ago he had 3 double doubles in 4 games, and is ALMOST averaging a double double for January(his worst month as a Rocket so far). It's hard to fault a guy for not being offensively productive when he wasn't brought in for his abundance of offensive production-be thankful for the 9+ points he gives you. Lin on the other hand has far underplayed the expectations placed upon him.
  • timetodienow1234567 says 1 YEAR ago

    blakecouey, on 26 January 2013 - 00:58 AM said:


    I'm to the point where I would rather pass on Gasol than help the Lakers. I'm enjoying them sucking it up this year. It's hard to want to pass on Gasol after his Olympic performance, but he's not even a shadow of himself of years past. I believe Smith has more upside than Millsap, but that Millsap may be the better choice at the moment.

    Ultimately I would be equally interested in finding a replacement for Lin as I am for finding a PF.


    While Lin is not playing great, neither is Asik. Are you looking for upgrades there?
  • tombrokeoff says 1 YEAR ago im with ya...if pau was the piece to put us over the top and into championship contention, then fine, but its nowhere near that, and hes not a future piece, so pass.
  • blakecouey says 1 YEAR ago I'm to the point where I would rather pass on Gasol than help the Lakers. I'm enjoying them sucking it up this year. It's hard to want to pass on Gasol after his Olympic performance, but he's not even a shadow of himself of years past. I believe Smith has more upside than Millsap, but that Millsap may be the better choice at the moment.

    Ultimately I would be equally interested in finding a replacement for Lin as I am for finding a PF.
  • Cooper says 1 YEAR ago Gasol is possible if Lin is included maybe going to a 3rd team, I'd rather overpay gasol for 1.5years than over pay smith or milsap for 4-5 especially if we had to trade to overpay for milsap/smith. Yeah gasol doesn't fit our system but our system isn't a playoff system anyways. He's not being used right by the lakers and still has a little left in the tank. I wouldn't mind milsap or smith they're good players but the new CBA was made to try and prevent teams giving near max or max contracts to guys like that.
  • phaketrash says 1 YEAR ago I have to disagree malky.

    I think Rockets are one of the few teams where a deal w/ Gasol IS plausible. We can help them shed salary. Few other teams can do that. We can give them some of the pieces they need, though not the best of what they would hope for. Lin's contract is just a yr longer than LAL would like, but maybe not, depending on what they want to do w/ Nash...and Nash is old/on K for just 1 more yr anyways. As long as the deal is centered around Lin (not saying it is probable that LAL and HOU could agree to this, but if they did since, as I have argued above, it is somewhat win-win for both and so at least plausible), HOU can absorb Gasol's contract w/ easy.

    JSmith being moved to HOU before the trade deadline seems improbable, but not 0%. I haven't thought too much about this mainly because I don't like JSmith for our team.

    Wow, I would cry tears of joy if Utah agreed to give us Millsap for 2Pat. I would jump on that in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, there is 0% chance that is happening. No idea why Utah would want to do that w/ them coming off the books anyways. Millsap is a pretty valuable trade piece indeed, but 2Pat is not the asset they want back. The whole point is Utah wants to clear their logjam of PFs. To get another PF, and one that is worse to boot, makes no sense. 2Pat is not nearly valuable enough for them to want to move Millsap to us for, so compounded by being a '4' and there's no way Utah will do it.

    btw, welcome to the forums lol.
  • malky says 1 YEAR ago Gasol's and Rox' contract situations make a deal totally implausible.

    Zero incentive for Danny to ferry Smith in this direction.

    Milsap is most likely to be an attractive trade piece by Utah for, say, Patterson and a $5mil TE IMHO.
  • phaketrash says 1 YEAR ago Oh I know LAL would ask and want Parsons. That might be a deal breaker for us. I know personally I would not want to give up Parsons. I like the idea of a Gasol trade (centered around trading Lin and some pieces/expirings), but I mean I like getting Millsap for the right amount or anything else not named JSmith almost just as much haha.

    Either way, we have like $7M in cap space. Even if they had to eat up Jones' $1.5, they're still shedding more than $5M, and with where their payroll is at, that $5M is a LOT more than $5M lol.

    $8M for a backup is steep, but so is having a $19M unhappy man brooding on the bench. LAL might agree w/ those that believe Lin can thrive in a situation where he gets the ball more...not just someone relegated to a spot up shooter. And don't forget, their coach is D'antoni! Last time that happened for Lin, it worked out pretty well hahaha. If LAL will go w/ D'antoni partly for his pairing w/ Nash, I don't know why they wouldn't at least consider Lin for similar reasons.

    Also, don't forget that Nash is on a 2 yr deal and is 38/39 this year. Guy can ball, but he's old. He isn't a long term PG option for LAL in all honesty. Lin coming off the bench gives them that spark (where Lin can dominate the ball) and lets Nash/Kobe rest (depending on what other piece we throw in the trade, i.e., Toney Douglas). LAL already sits Nash a lot and he may not even be around for too much longer. Lin, while not a "sure thing" investment, is not a bad take for LAL. Their options are limited.

    Finally, again, I'd like to point out that Gasol's K comes off the books in a year. 2014 FA is such a big offseason! This one kind of sucks. Just on a 1 yr comparison, I would rather have Gasol than JSmith and maybe Millsap (bigger prob w/ the Sap is the length of his K). He would help us make the playoffs THIS season and free up our pick after this yr instead of being the 9th seed and having fewer assets. This is a great way for the Rockets to take advantage of the cap space we have against desperate teams (ex: LAL).
  • timetodienow1234567 says 1 YEAR ago The Lakers wouldn't want Lin. 8 mil to a backup is steep. They would have to add Parsons and Jones to there. Why shed salary just to eat part of it back???
  • phaketrash says 1 YEAR ago Exactly timetodie. That's why I think a trade for Pau must include either Lin or Asik...but giving up Asik would be a mistake imo. Asik's worth a lot more to our team than Lin is. Throw in Lin and the deal for Pau (along w/ maybe LAL giving us D.Morris too) is not that bad at all.

    Lin Delfino 2Pat or MM...or alternatively, Lin Douglas Aldrich 2Pat or MM. We wouldn't even have to give up Jones or DMo.

    His $19M comes off the books in 2014, which is perfect. He'd make us instant WCF contenders, though not NBA Finals contenders. That may not be what we as fans care too much about, but make no mistake, Les and Morey care about it, esp. since it does not funk up our long term (2014 ) plans. That FA is much better than this yr's. I mean, who would we even spend the cap money on?

    1) Small pieces that expire in a yr
    2) JSmith, who WOULD mess w/ our long term plans and not make us contenders
    3) Millsap, who is awesome might might also mess w/ our long term plans and not make us contenders

    Gasol or Option 1 are the safest choices, imo, but Gasol = more wins without REALLY sacrificing too much development when it comes to our young assets. Man, I'm starting to really convince myself of a Gasol trade haha.
  • timetodienow1234567 says 1 YEAR ago I like Gasol, but that price tag would keep us from getting him. He wouldn't clash with Asik that much since Asik isn't really an offensive player. Having a starting 5 of Lin/Harden/Parsons/Gasol/Asik would be great, but we would have ZERO depth. We would have to give up Delfino, Douglas, Jones, Morris,etc... Getting Millsap would be great though. We wouldn't have to give up much more than Douglas, Delfino, Jones, and one other guy.
  • phaketrash says 1 YEAR ago I like Millsap a lot, and sort of like Gasol, too. Gasol's 32 isn't that bad, esp. as you noted, his technique and skillset are still there. He doesn't rely on athleticism to power through his opponents. Athleticism dies out earlier and isn't as useful in the long run for big men (see: D12). That is what worries me a bit w/ Millsap and Smith. Both, of course, are much younger so this is somewhat a moot point.

    I don't think your hypo deal w/ Utah can happen since we dont' have a first to trade (until we make playoffs and give ATL ours), so I can't imagine Utah parting w/ Millsap for even less. But regardless, I have a feeling Utah would rather part ways w/ big Al before Millsap.

    Trading for Gasol, as you mentioned, is near impossible w/o moving one of our 4 'core' pieces, but I'm really not against moving Lin for Gasol. His skillset is a bit redundant w/ the way the team's currently run. I'd rather give up Lin than make up for it by trading a ton of depth/young assets.

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