Dwight Howard didn’t just agree to go to the Houston Rockets. Nope, the most coveted free agent of 2013 — Chris Paul was never really free — bought into a vision.
Daryl Morey’s vision.
You have to hand it to Morey. The analytics-loving general manager of the Rockets knows how to reinvent a franchise.
Morey thought he inherited the team of the millennium once. The super-stud duo of Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady disintegrated in a mess of injuries and first-round exits. Yao retired. T-Mac, most recently a playoff hanger-on in San Antonio, should.
In the last few years, some of the shine rubbed off Morey’s veneer. The Rockets had become an afterthought in the Western Conference, as the rebuilding project post-Yao seemed to sputter. Kevin McHale wasn’t a slam-dunk choice as coach. The city of Houston, as it is wont to do, lost interest.
But Morey had a vision that began to take hold last summer when he money-whipped Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik. While Lin may never live up to his hype, his signing signaled the Rockets were back in the game. Asik was exactly the kind of diamond-in-the-rough center Moneyball GMs like Morey drool over.
Add those two to an exciting and talented young roster featuring the likes of Chandler Parsons is something in itself. Morey then pounced at an offering that sent shock waves across the West. James Harden balked at being third banana, and thus paid like one, in Oklahoma City. The Rockets backed up the truck for the reigning Sixth Man of the Year, and it was worth it.
Morey had nabbed Houston’s new basketball hero.
The Bearded One is the kind of singular talent that makes All-Star centers reconsider, and in this case reject, life in the land of centers. Wilt, Kareem, Shaq, Dwi … nah. The Houston lineup of big men isn’t too shabby: Moses, Hakeem, Yao and now Howard.
Howard also has a sidekick to grow old with. Hakeem Olajuwon had Clyde Drexler. Yao should have had McGrady. Howard has Harden. Instead of milking the final few years of an already-accomplished Kobe Bryant coming of Achilles surgery, Howard and Harden get to forge their own identity together. The Rockets are their team.
Rather than living in Kobe’s shadow, Howard and Harden share the Houston spotlight. Much like that trio in Miami.
Howard said via Twitter that Houston is “the best place for me and I am excited about joining the Rockets and I’m looking forward to a great season.” He also thanked the fans in Los Angeles and wished them the best.
What about the Lakers? Not a word of thanks for the actual team. After last season’s injury-riddled debacle and the lack of connection with Bryant, why would he thank the Lakers?
The Lakers will always belong to Kobe. Black Mamba already ran off one Hall-of-Fame big man. Why would Bryant respect Howard more than Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe’s partner in three titles? If Dwight had stayed in L.A. and the Lakers don’t win, it would be his fault. Kobe’s legacy is as secure as the five rings on his fingers. Howard would never be an equal.
And as far as teaching Howard how to win a title, Kobe would be better off giving Mike D’Antoni and Steve Nash a Larry O’Brien crash course. Howard, remember, has at least reached The NBA Finals. D’Antoni and Nash can’t say the same.
Dwight in Houston just makes the most sense, from basketball and personal reasons. He’s practically an elder statesman in the Rockets locker room at the ripe old age of 27. His light-hearted demeanor meshes with Harden. They can compare bow ties and dark-rimmed glasses.
Pairing Howard with a young dynamo is something Dallas and Atlanta couldn’t guarantee. Steph Curry in Golden State is rightfully intriguing, but most league observers agree Harden has a higher ceiling and isn’t nearly as fragile.
Howard obviously isn’t concerned about Houston’s up-tempo offense. McHale knows a few things about dominant post presences, having been one himself and teaming with another in Robert Parish. McHale was the league’s best on the block pre-Tim Duncan.
D-Ho to H-town isn’t without risks. Is there a more sensitive star with more unpredictable behavior than Dwight Howard? And what about his back? Though the concerns are legit, there’s a reason why teams were lining up at Howard’s door. Franchise centers in a league with so few just don’t hit the open market.
Now the Rockets have to be considered among the favorites in the West, joining the last two conference champions in San Antonio and Oklahoma City. Daryl Morey had visions of Dwight Howard in a Rockets uniform before this summer, and his work last summer made it happen.