After two years of the “Dwightmare”, sources are reporting that Howard has signed for th max with the Houston Rockets. Only a year ago, many NBA experts thought that the Rockets had almost no chance of landing the prized center. However, a year has gone by and everything has changed in the NBA. Many people believed that Howard’s roller coaster journey had ended three times, when ESPN reported he was traded to the Nets, when he opted in to stay with the Magic, and finally on August 10, 2012, when he was part of a four team deal that sent him to Los Angeles. However, we were all wrong; the roller coaster ride was just taking another curve. After a disastrous season, the Lakers fired their coach after 5 games, Howard was forced to play with back pain, Lakers faced crippling injuries, Kobe never accepted Howard’s playful demeanor, Kobe hurting his Achilles, and finally Howard’s ejection in Game Four of the first round of the NBA playoffs, many experts believed that Howard would not be returning to the Lakers. Although Kobe had the last word and the Lakers could offer $30 million more dollars than the Rockets, the tumultuous situation caused Howard to reevaluate his options and leave Tinseltown. Although Howard does deserve blame because of how he handled the situation, NBA fans should respect him for giving up $30 million dollars and a chance to live in LA because he felt more comfortable in Houston.
Although the Rockets will have a lot of expectations and talent, they will not be my favorite to win the Western Conference. When Howard is healthy, he is one of the most dominating players this game has to offer. However, his status is uncertain because back injuries do not just heal themselves, especially for big men. Howard was not the same player we saw in Orlando because of the back injury. Although Howard had a great season compared to other centers around the league, 17 ppg, 12 rpg, 2 blk, Howard did not have the same quickness or athleticism because of the back injury. Even if Howard returns to full strength, I do not believe that the Rockets will be the top team in the league or the West. Personally, I do not think Houston’s personal will be good enough to lead Howard to his first championship. Besides for James Harden, one of the league’s brightest stars, the Rockets are devoid of star power. Although many people feel that Chandler Parsons will be a star in the league, I do not share the same opinion. The Rockets will be forced to change their style of play, which will affect their supporting cast. The Rocket players were able to put up gaudy numbers because of their “run and gun” offense, which led to a lot of open transition threes and layups. However, the Rockets will no longer be able to play at such a speed because it does not fit Howard’s game. As seen with the Lakers, Dwight is completely ineffective in that style of play. Players, such as Parsons and Lin, will be a lot less effective in their new style of play. Although Parsons will be successful as a three point shooter, Parsons will be unable to put up the same points or assists numbers, which will denigrate his value as a player. Lin will not be the same player, when the Rockets change their style of play. As seen in New York, when the Knicks were forced to play slow, Lin was not as effective as a player because of his disability to go left and separate from defenders. Lin is not a good shooter, which is what the Rockets will need to spread the floor for Howard and Harden.
I still believe that the Rockets will be fighting for a top 4 position in the West. I would not be surprised if the Rockets finished 4th, however I would be surprised if they finished first ahead of OKC, Grizzlies, and Spurs. OKC beat the Rockets in 6 games, even though they did not have Russell Westbrook. I would choose Russell Westbrook, Durant, and Ibaka over Howard, Harden, and Parsons. Houston will face tough battle with the Grizzlies, Clippers, and Spurs in the playoffs. The Rocket players have never won, which could be a major problem during playoff time. The Grizzlies and Spurs would have big men that could defend and neutralize Harden and Howard, Grizzlies: Allen and Gasol and Spurs: Leonard and Duncan. I would take the talent and experience of the Grizzlies and Spurs over the Rockets currently, but things can change.
However, the Rockets will have a chance of bringing the title back to Houston if they can sign Josh Smith. After reports surfaced that Howard would be signing with the Rockets, Omar Asik stated that he would not play with Howard because they share similar positions. Atlanta does not want Smith back on their team, especially for the salary he is commanding. Atlanta and Rockets have expressed interest in a possible sign and trade. The addition of Smith would give the Rockets with one of the most athletic and dynamic rotation in the league. Although many of their players have never won and their bench would be non existent, there starting five should enable them to reach the NBA Finals. In order to overtake the throne, the Rockets must add veteran free agents, who can come off the bench and provide quality minutes. Especially if the Thunder or Spurs do not add another borderline All-Star, expect the Houston Rockets to come out of the West and face the Heat in an epic final.
Stats and pics from ESPN.com