Why Al Jefferson Is a Must-Have Free Agent for Houston Rockets

Eric EdelmanCorrespondent IJune 30, 2013

He's not a big name, but Al Jefferson is a big time player the Rockets should set their sights on.
He's not a big name, but Al Jefferson is a big time player the Rockets should set their sights on.Scott Halleran/Getty Images

While the Houston Rockets might have struck gold if recent developments with the supremely talented Dwight Howard go smoothly, there exists another big-time big man still available in free agency should things go awry.

So who's this big man not named Dwight David Howard that the Rockets absolutely have to get?

The gentleman in question happens to be tweener pivotman Al Jefferson, a versatile big who could feasibly be utilized as either a four or five. If you've never heard of Big Al, well frankly, I can't blame you.

He's played in small markets for most of his career, and his most recent stint with the Utah Jazz wasn't necessarily noteworthy aside from a relatively productive season.

Jefferson finished out the 2012-13 campaign contributing a respectable 17.8 points per game with 9.2 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per contest. 

Ok, nice stats, but why should Houston still keep Al Jefferson atop their target list if Dwight goes elsewhere?

Two reasons: Houston desperately needs a dependable option at power forward, and aside from the positional need, acquiring Jefferson would essentially give Houston four dependable starters who can light it up.

Everybody knows Chandler Parsons, James Harden and Jeremy Lin are capable of getting buckets, but Al Jefferson would only enhance the games of that trio.

Jefferson is essentially a double-team-commanding player who can post up or face up with the best of them. He isn't a terrible defender either, so he's certainly worth bringing on board. Given his offensive prowess, Jefferson would give Harden and Parsons plenty of looks when they spot up, and he could play the two man game with Jeremy Lin in pick-and-roll sets. 

Plain and simple, Al Jefferson enhances an already lethal Houston offense, and he makes the Rockets a legitimate contender in the entire league, not just the Western Conference. In fact, it could be argued that Jefferson would fit in better than Howard.

Yes, there are few else in the league as physically gifted as Howard, but this past season in Los Angeles shouldn't be ignored for his pervasive mental errors on the floor, and his lack of progression as far as maturity is concerned.

With Jefferson you're getting a high-character, championship or bust-type of mindset; with Howard, you get a lot of question marks concerning his health and mental state.

Also, Howard doesn't exactly do anything offensively to change Houston's gameplan. Howard has still yet to develop any semblance of a reliable post game, along with a tendency to set bad picks and take silly fouls that disrupt the flow of the game. He is also virtually useless in tight games down the stretch considering his offensive predictability and inability to knock down free throws consistently.

Interestingly enough, however, Howard could have a solid season, a la his years in Orlando, if he's surrounded again by tremendous shooters. With Jefferson on the other hand, there is no doubt you're going to have open shooters.

In his time with Utah, the primary issue for Jefferson was a lack of dependable outside shooters. Houston would allow Jefferson to truly operate with sharpshooters, and he could also take advantage of teams doubling him or overplaying shooters and giving him a lot more one-on-one opportunities. 

While some might argue Jefferson is too predictable and too "safe" an option, he is most certainly the safer wager to risk Houston's future on. Dwight Howard is a bigger name, and is certainly the flashier of the two players, but should Houston lose the Howard sweepstakes, they absolutely have to make Al Jefferson a top priority.