Are The Houston Rockets Contenders?
After an uneventful Fourth of July and the ensuing NBA Free Agent fireworks that were set off Friday after the announcement from Dwight Howard that he’d be taking his game to HTown, I’ve listened over and over for the past 50-some-odd hours to varying points of view as to what this means for the Rockets and the impact on the NBA in 2013-2014.
Let me begin by saying, and I’m not one to toot my own horn, but I told you so.
If Dwight Howard was really about winning championships as he said he was when he spoke to the LA Times back in early June, then the Rockets were the only team that made sense. Winning in LA or Dallas meant being on a mediocre team for a year, and then ramping up all over again next off-season to land other marquee free agents to join him.
Who wants that headache..? D12 didn’t.
In one of several interviews that he conducted after making his long-awaited decision, he explained to HoopsWorld.com why Houston made the most sense.
“I felt like Houston was the best fit for me,” Howard told HOOPSWORLD in an exclusive interview. “I felt that James and I would really have an opportunity to grow together. I felt like having a coach like Kevin McHale and having Hakeem Olajuwon, who’s in Houston, can really help me grow as a player – help me as a post player and help my overall game. It was very appealing. I felt like this was a great opportunity for me to start fresh. I’m just looking forward to this opportunity.”
Fresh start, new opportunity, and great coaching around him to improve his overall game; it almost made too much sense for him to go elsewhere.
But as I’ve told Ted, there’s been much made about Howard’s demeanor and his antics when it comes to the locker room, not to mention getting Stan Van Gundy fired and the unknown that comes with adding a mercurial talent like Howard.
He’s 27. I know there are some decisions from my mid-20s, hell a few months ago, that I’d like back.
He was torn over leaving the team that drafted him, and after an emotional and public tug-of-war that sullied his name for sure before he was shipped off to LA, Howard unquestionably made some missteps along the way with how he handled his departure from Orlando. And then his one season in LA was a gaggle from the start, ending mercifully against the eventual Western Conference Champion Spurs in embarrassing fashion – getting ejected from his last game as a Lacer.
That’s all bullocks now though because he’s officially hit the restart button on his career.
Houston is like the baby bear’s porridge when it comes to basketball bliss for Howard – not too hot and not too cold.
It doesn’t have the glitz, glam and 24/7 drama cycle that comes with playing for the Lakers and with Kobe. Yet it doesn’t have the small-market, transient feel of Orlando where basketball is ranked in importance somewhere between Magic Mountain and Sea World.
HTown on the other hand, it knows some hoops now. Hell, it’s the only team in this town – I’m not including the Comets – with a championship banner hanging in the rafters. Football crazy Houston hasn’t even been to a championship game, let alone won one.
The Rockets are not the Celtics or the Lakers, but they are NBA Royalty. They’ve had all-time greats: Hakeem, Elvin Hayes, Moses Malone, Clyde, Calvin Murphy, Rudy T, etc… You get my point. This isn’t the Memphis Grizzlies. Hell, they’re not the Dallas Mavericks.
The Rockets are a proud NBA franchise, and really are the perfect spot for Dwight to take his game to the next level. Now, the question that was thrown around a ton this weekend, and I pretty much disagreed with everyone that I heard talk about it – are the Rockets legit title contenders…?
Spare me this idea that they don’t have the firepower to contend with Oklahoma City or the Spurs in the team’s first year together as it’s currently constructed. That’s crap. Daryl Morey, who might be the second happiest person in the NBA not affiliated with the Miami Heat, has constructed – so far – an elite team in the Western Conference just based on the starting five that includes TWO of the TOP 10 Players in the NBA.
You have the best Center in the League and a Top 3 Shooting Guard in Harden. An improving Chandler Parsons rounds out your Big Three and then add Lin and ‘a starting four to be named later.’
I have my idea who that will be but I’ll save it for another column, or you can listen to me tonight.
Whether Asik or Lin is traded is irrelevant right now, because with them, this is a top two team in the Western Conference. You’ve added Casspi who will be money coming off the bench and is a more athletic version of Delfino, although he doesn’t shoot as well. Garcia is back, DMo and TJones are a year older, and so is Greg Smith. Don’t forget the Canaan kid who can score in bunches and oh by the way, and let’s not forget the Tonya Harding of point guards, Patrick Beverly. And let’s not forget, there are a lot of guards in the NBA WORSE than Jeremy Lin…. I feel bad for the kid. He’s not Linsanity, he’ll never be Linsanity again and it’s not his fault he’s an average to good PG who got paid good to great money. Besides, I rocked my JLin jersey last Friday and BOOM, D12 is a Rocket.
Something tells me Morey isn’t done fiddling with the roster, yet I don’t see any big deals coming down the pike, and as our guy Jonathan Feigen from the Chronicle has pointed out time and time again, Morey isn’t going to make a trade just to do it. He wants value, so don’t expect to see Asik or Lin traded for a PF and a box of ankle tape.
I’ll get you all out of here with this – people can complain all they want about Dwight Howard and what he has or hasn’t done in the last few years. This much I know – over Howard’s last three seasons, which is universally accepted as the duration in which Howard has allegedly destroyed two franchises – he’s averaged 20.1 ppg – 13.7 rpg – 2.3 bpg – which are far and away the best numbers for a Center during that stretch, and his teams went 134-96 during that stretch, which includes the 2011-2012 shortened season. All three of those teams made the playoffs in their respective seasons.
So – if Dwight Howard, who said he’s as healthy physically and emotionally as he’s ever been, is at peace with a professional decision he had the chance to make, and told anyone who’s willing to listen that all he cares about at this stage of his career is winning titles – and he’s still very much in his prime – why can’t Rocket fans expect 57-60 wins, one of the most lethal inside-outside duos in the NBA since Shaq and Kobe and a run to the Finals….?
You can and You Should.