Could the Houston Rockets Have Still Been a Playoff Team without James Harden Acquistition?

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Who Should the Rockets Sign to be Their Power Forward of the Future?

Names such as Paul Millsap, Pau Gasol and Josh Smith have all been linked to the Rockets in free agency this summer, and there are certainly arguments for all three.

Apr 15, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Utah Jazz power forward Paul Millsap (24) shoots and Minnesota Timberwolves power forward Dante Cunningham (33) defends in the fourth quarter at Target Center. The Jazz won 96-80. Mandatory Credit: Greg Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Millsap seems to be the best bargain given his perfect fit with the Rockets’ game style, but Utah may push strongly to re-sign him if they are going to choose between he and their other big man free agent Al Jefferson.

He’s undersized, but that has hardly mattered in his career. He blocks more shots than guys several inches taller, and his quick hands have made him one of the best power forwards in steals per game, with 1.5 steals per-36 over his career.

Millsap would run pick and rolls well with Lin or Harden, and his abilities to stretch the court to 18-feet would help the Rockets offense open up more than when a raw Thomas Robinson were in the game.

Smith’s defensive talents would help transform the Rockets on the defensive end, and he’s quick, athletic and exciting as hell—all things that would greatly improve the Rockets from even more than just a basketball standpoint. Don’t be surprised to see Morey tender a max-contact to Smith, because if he doesn’t, someone else will.

Apr 12, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks small forward Josh Smith (5) controls the ball against Milwaukee Bucks small forward Mike Dunleavy (17) during the second half at Philips Arena. The hawks defeated the Bucks 109-104. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Smith’s merits as a basketball player may be slightly dubious; he has never made an All-Star team; but guys who win dunk titles and excite fans come at a premium, and Smith will be a guy who fans clamor to see catch the oops from Lin and Harden.

Gasol provides the least long-term hope for the Rockets, but perhaps the best short-term one. He’s still talented enough to be a No. 1 option on most teams, and pairing him with Harden could be a devastating tandem for a lot of different teams, due to the versatility of the tandem. Gasol can operate from both the high and low post, and Harden’s ability to play either off of pick and rolls or to penetrate would give the Rockets a plethora of offensive options with guys like Lin, Parsons and Delfino flanking the wings. It’s a scheme that would rival what Phil Jackson did with Gasol; you know, before Mike D’Antoni ruined his career and minimized his talents as an NBA player.

Apr 14, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Pau Gasol (16) celebrates after making a 3-point basket in the second half as Lakers center Dwight Howard (12) and San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan (21) and guard Gary Neal (14) watch at the Staples Center. The Lakers defeated the Spurs 91-88. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Gasol could come in to Houston and resume his brilliance for as long as his body would allow him to, and something leads me to believe that it would be a lot longer if he were given the vigor of feeling as though he were the primary focus on a team again.

Coming off the bench behind Earl Clark was demoralizing to a player who considers himself the pride of an entire country, and Gasol would much rather thrive playing for a young Rockets team than continue to be forced into a role he is too good for: a fourth option and sixth man on a mediocre Lakers team.