With Howard in fold, Rockets ready to contend
The Houston Rockets landed the biggest prize in the offseason: a seven-time All-Star, three-time Defensive Player of the Year and Superman in training, Dwight Howard.
The most attractive free agent this summer, Howard signed with the Rockets, spurning his incumbent Los Angeles Lakers and the upstart Golden State Warriors.
"This is very special. Words really can't explain how I feel about being here," Howard said. "It is a fresh start, a clean slate. I am looking forward to doing it in Houston with these beautiful fans behind me. I think it is going to be great. I am looking forward to embracing this city and giving them everything I got."
Howard's one season in Hollywood was not glamorous. The Lakers played well below expectations, squeaked into the playoffs and disbanded, due in large part, to Howard's departure.
Through the disappointment of the 2012-13 campaign, Howard's numbers dipped, but were still extraordinary. He averaged 17.1 ppg (down almost 3.0 ppg from the previous season), but led the NBA in rebounding with 12.4 per game and finished fifth in the league in blocked shots at 2.45 a contest.
The numbers and the underachieving weren't the truly alarming facets of Howard's season with the Lakers. It was that Howard continued to appear like a malcontent and a problem. He clashed with Kobe Bryant about his role in the offense and within the team.
But Howard gets a fresh start with one of last season's most surprising teams. Just before the regular season, the Rockets acquired James Harden from the Oklahoma City Thunder for peanuts. He turned into an All-Star, one of the top- five best scorers in the league and one of its top players.
Houston made the postseason with relative ease and even took a few games from the top-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder.
Who's In/Who's Out
Additions: Dwight Howard, Omri Casspi, Ronnie Brewer, Marcus Camby, Reggie Williams, Isaiah Canaan, Robert Covington, B.J. Young, Jordan Henriquez
Losses: Thomas Robinson, Royce White, Carlos Delfino, James Anderson, Tim Ohlbrecht, Daequan Cook
The Rockets were the NBA's second-highest scoring team and one of the most storied three-point shooting teams in history. They'll be good offensively again.
The Best in the West?
Rocketing Up the Standings
Fighting For A High Seed
Up and Coming
Defensively, Houston finished 28th in a 30-team league in opponents' scoring.
Howard can change that stat and quickly.
Defensively, he'll improve this group immeasurably considering he is probably the league's best rim protector. The up-tempo style the Rockets play doesn't seem to suit Howard's game, but he can run the floor for cheap baskets and when they slow down, Howard can kick to open shooters, which makes Houston incredibly difficult to defend.
Harden is alsospectacular. He averaged 25.9 ppg, 5.8 apg and 4.9 rpg, all career highs. (His minutes also were a career-best 38.3 per game.) Harden is not just a great scorer and shooter (37 percent from 3-point range), but a great facilitator. Those assist numbers are high for an off-guard.
Harden and Howard may be the best inside-outside punch in the enitre NBA.
Holdovers Chandler Parsons, Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin round out a very good starting five.
The Not So Good
Howard is notoriously moddy and is gaining a big reputation as a coach killer.
Just ask Stan Van Gundy and Mike D'Antoni.
Hopefully he stays happy and doesn't become a thorn in Kevin McHale's side because an unhappy Howard could seriously derail the momentum this team gathered last year.
The bench depth is also a bit of an issue.
What To Expect
This team is certainly playoff bound, but are they contenders?
With no natural power forward and some question marks on the bench, probably not.
The Rockets are relying on Howard to change their defense and he's capable, but, despite the nickname, he's not Superman. The on-the-ball defense needs to improve drastically.
Expect Houston to still be in the top five offensively. They are loaded on offense. Don't expect much of a decline from Harden and Parsons' numbers could grow.
The NBA is a superstar-driven league and with Harden and Howard, the Rockets have two. They are closer than ever and give General Manager Daryl Morey credit for turning a dreadful roster into a top-10 in the league.
The Rockets could host a first-round playoff series, but they're just not quite at the championship door.