By Jean-Paul Salamanca ( | First Posted: Jan 10, 2013 12:41 PM EST

Would Houston's duo of James Harden, far left, and Jeremy Lin, second from left, benefit by any possible Houston trade for Pau Gasol, third from right, Rudy Gay, second from right, or DeMarcus Cousins, far right? (Photo : Reuters)

If there is any team that can appreciate the value of what trades and shrewd moves can do for a franchise, it's the Houston Rockets.

Hardliner, Machiavellian-like contract negotiations allowed them to snatch the red-hot commodity known as Jeremy Lin from the limelight of Broadway to Space City.

Savvy deal-making landed the Rockets one of the league's premier scorers in 23-year-old James Harden, who is looking phenomenal and hasn't even reached his prime yet. The result: Lin and Harden now form one of the league's fastest, most exciting backcourt duos in recent years.

Shedding cap space in the last two seasons put them in position to acquire young up-and-comers such as Omer Asik.

And with plenty of cap space to spare for the offseason, the Rockets can still add on yet another big piece of the puzzle as they look to create a legitimate Western Conference contender for years to come.

And yet, there are still improvements that can be made to this young up-and-coming team that could benefit them as they look towards the playoffs.

Despite the Wednesday night loss to the Hornets, the Houston Rockets (21-15) remain the hottest team in the NBA right now.

Yet, with the fifth-hardest schedule (according to ESPN) of all 30 NBA teams still facing them as they approach the halfway mark for the season, the Rockets could still use perimeter defenders, interior presence, and perhaps a veteran head that could help steer this young and eager team away from some of its mistakes on defense and turnovers.

Some of these goods might be found on the open market as the trade deadline looms. But which players would best benefit the Rockets? Are there any available that could improve on the foundation that Lin and Harden are building right now?

Here are some possible candidates:

Rudy Gay, Grizzlies

At age 26, he's young, he's athletic, and he's apparently available. The Grizzlies have been reportedly shopping Gay, who is averaging 17.8 points and 5.8 rebounds this season, on the open market. With $52 million due to small forward Gay over the next three years, he would certainly come at no small price, and it would likely take a combination of Patrick Patterson, Carlos Delfino and/or Chandler Parsons to get this talented athlete.

He may be in a shooting slump at the moment, but he would bring to the Rockets another proven scoring weapon that could compliment Harden and Lin, and he's young enough where his legs could fit right into Houston's frenetic offensive game. And maybe a little bit of Memphis's league-leading defense (89.1 points allowed per game) may have rubbed off on Gay, which could only help Houston.

DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings

Another young prospect with a huge upside, the 22-year-old Cousins is athletic, can block, rebound and score. While the Kings may not want to part with Cousins if they are indeed moving to Seattle, reports have Sacramento listening to offers from the aging Celtics for their young star.

If the Rockets want Cousins, they would likely have to part with Asik, who has been steady for them in rebounds, blocks and points this season, and perhaps one of their frontline pieces or some draft picks. The upside? Cousins would provide the Rockets with another interior presence, and give Lin and Harden a powerful weapon to use off the pick-and-roll or even to feed down low in the post. And a core of Cousins, Harden and Lin could make Houston a force to be reckoned with in a very short period of time.

Pau Gasol, Los Angeles Lakers

He wouldn't come cheap. And he has his share of problems. Gasol has struggled with injuries all season, recently going down with a concussion, and before that, it was knee problems. And with his body beginning to break down, he doesn't fit in to Mike D'Antoni's high-paced offense, which is another red flag for the run-and-gun Rockets.

So why consider this trade? Experience.

Gasol was a member of championship teams with the Lakers. He knows what it takes to get to the next level. And perhaps a change of scenery is what Gasol could use in order to get him to play like his old four-time NBA All-Star self again. The Lakers would probably want Parsons, possibly a few of Houston's reserves and maybe a draft pick or two for him.

But if the Rockets could get the "original" Gasol back, he could add stable scoring and create a triple threat offense of Lin, Harden and Gasol for teams to deal with.

The 2013 NBA Trade Deadline is Thursday, February 21.

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