Dwight Howard Has Been To Finals Before But Can He Get There With Houston?

Dwight Howard
Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard (12) reacts to a foul called against him during the second half at Staples Center. Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Dwama, the Dwightmare, the Summer Agency Dwead―whatever other cheesy name you want to assign to Dwight Howard’s long-running free agency troubles―is over. Dwight Howard will be playing as a Houston Rocket, choosing to take less guaranteed money in the process. That means a number of things:

  1. Despite the rosy PR moves, Howard detested playing in L.A.
  2. The Lakers will be in rebuild mode for a few years
  3. Howard has confidence in his back if he took a deal with less insurance coverage, year wise, and
  4. Houston climbs the charts

But how good do the Rockets get? Howard thinks they can be a championship team. In fact, he’s “betting $30 million on it.” That’s the difference between the four-year, $88 million that Houston is expected to give him and the five-year, $118 million the Lakers slid across the bargaining table. For Howard, the decision to take less money, and potentially work under the best or second-best pivot big man in league history (McHale), should prove to pundits that his heart is in the right place.

A rundown of media impressions proves that everyone at least agrees that Houston might have been the best place basketball wise for Howard. But critics continue to question Howard’s heart, and that might be the organ most critical in securing a Larry O’Brien.

Yet it’s valuing the emotions of the heart over the analytics of the brain that might be behind the almost absent-minded notion that Howard is no longer a franchise center. Does Dallas, Golden State, Atlanta, and even the Lakers, drool over a guy the way they did if he still isn’t?

Last year he averaged 17.1 PPG, 12.4 RPG, 2.5 BLKPG, 1.4 APG. Pedestrian numbers for Howard but still some of the best in the league and this for someone still recovering from back surgery.  Howard was one of only four guys that averaged at least 15 PPG and 10 RPG. The others were Zach Randolph, David Lee, and Al Horford. With Lee, he was the only guy who averaged at least 17 PPG and 11 RPG, and the only person in the league to average better than 17 PPG and 12 RPG.

Though his stats took a slight dip in 2012-13, Howard is only 27 years old and was off by his career average for points by 1.2 and for rebounds by .5. He certainly got a lot of flack for such minimal shrinkage. Under D’Antoni he averaged 3 less minutes the year prior, and most critically, 3 less field-goal attempts. In fact, his USG% of 22.4 was the lowest it’s ever been since his first two years in the league. McHale won’t make the same mistake of misusing the former DPOY.

Houston don’t become guaranteed leaders of the Western Conference―the Spurs are making quiet decisions in the offseason and Golden State already looks better than they did last year―but there’s plenty of room to dominate with its bolstered roster. Denver is in shambles, so is Utah, the Lakers are 3-4 years away from making any major splashes, OKC lost Kevin Martin and Westbrook is hurt, the Grizzlies lost their coach, the Clippers still look like fool’s gold, so Houston can climb the charts quickly.

Carlos Delfino was waived, so was Aaron Brooks, Thomas Robinson was traded, Royce White was shipped (by land) to Philadelphia, but the Rockets remain a good young team that’s looking a lot like Howard’s Orlando Magic team from the 2009 NBA Finals. Word is that they’re still trying to acquire either Josh Smith or Ryan Anderson, but they already have a good core to build around.

Much like the Magic from 2009, the Rockets are a very good 3-point shooting team who can create off the dribble. In Parsons, they have a lanky forward who like Rashard Lewis of old can shoot from the suburbs, snag rebounds, and drive-and-kick reasonably well. Francisco Garcia can be a Mickael Pietrus type. Lin is no Jameer Nelson but can manage the offense well enough (if not, Patrick Beverly can have his job). Like Marcin Gortat, Donatas Motiejunas can be a serviceable big man. Omer probably won’t stick around as he’ll be a trade piece. If Anderson can be picked up, he could be a Torkoglu-lite for Houston. And James Harden is light years ahead of J.J. Redick or anyone else Howard played with in Orlando. Unlike Kobe, Harden is a willing passer and has no problem sharing the limelight (remember his time as a bench player? Crazy).

Really, this can be a championship quality team. They were elite last season in points per game (2nd, 106.0), rebounds (7th, 43.4), and assists (6th, 23.2). Of course, they were bottom of the barrel in points allowed (28th, 102.5), which is where Howard can factor immensely. With him on the court, even if still somewhat limited, I see them going for 102.0 PPG, 46.1 RPG, 22.0 APG, and 98.0 points allowed. If they add Josh Smith, it might look like 99.8 PPG, 48.0 RPG, 19.8 APG, and 96.1 points allowed. If Anderson, 103.5 PPG, 47.0 RPG, 23.0 APG, and 99.8 points allowed.

They’ll have major areas to exploit, like Lin’s defense on athletic point guards (see: Russell “The Tomahawk” Westbrook) and ball domination by Harden with Howard in the fray. But the playing styles seem much more workable than they were in L.A. and I see Harden and Howard becoming a deadly duo.

Even by the lowest projections, the Houston Rockets can become a top-3, top-4 team in the next few years, and might be playing for a championship in three, if the cards land right. Sorry Kobe.

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