In Defense Of Dwight Howard

Was Dwight Howard signing with the Houston Rockets supposed to be a surprise? Sunsets have had more suspense. The totality of circumstances pointed to Houston all along. The T-Minus countdown began when Howard got himself ejected in Game 4 of the Spurs sweep. Every summer, the top big men in the country mosey on down to Houston for Hakeem Olajuwon’s unofficial Big Man Camp to work on their post moves. Howard’s brought his tinman post movements to the The Dream’s shop for a few summers in a row, but he needed to ditch Disneyland and Disney World to get the season pass.

Howard’s also been known to clash with his coaches. He may have actually found one that he can jell with in Kevin McHale. McHale displayed a wider range of moves in the post during the '80s than Solid Gold Dancers.

“I felt like Houston was the best fit for me. 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,” Howard told Hoopsworld on Friday night. “It was very appealing. I felt like this was a great opportunity for me to start fresh.”

Howard's been ripped enough. If George Zimmerman can mount a case, someone should defend Howard's choice, as well. @DwightHoward lost a few fans and followers in L.A., including @KobeBryant, but as far as his career goes, Howard actually made the right choice. We often criticize athletes for taking the money, but Howard chose his own happiness over making Lakers fans like Jack Nicholson happy. Howard was a campy locker room Joker in L.A. Force Kobe Bryant to co-exist with Howard in a locker room for three to four more seasons and his career would end like the last 20 minutes of The Shining.

Everyone knows Gasol is Bryant’s partner in crime, so Howard drove the getaway car out of town before the jig was up. The Lakers salary cap is swallowing Ex-Lax in preparation for next summer’s salary dump, but banking on a coup that includes LeBron James is a risky proposition.

Why go to Dallas, cross his fingers and hope to strike oil in the summer of 2014? If Dirk Nowitzki really wants to take the K.G. and Paul Pierce route to a second title, he can travel to Houston next season as a free agent. Besides, the Mavericks roster has become a hollow shell trying to attract free agents over the last two summers. Houston has a nucleus of talent in place, cap flexibility and the NBA’s Billy Beane in Daryl Morey.

Howard leaves much to be desired as a post scorer, but defensively he’s probably the closest current equivalent to Dikembe Mutombo or Olajuwon in the 21st century. Howard isn’t on Olajuwon’s plane of basketball existence, but he’s a few classes above Yao Ming. More importantly, Harden and Howard fit together like Jack Nicholson and Ray-Bans.  Harden isn’t Tracy McGrady or Clyde Drexler in their primes, but he hasn’t approached his peak yet.

Howard left Hollywood for the role of a lifetime. Harden is one of the NBA’s best pick-and-roll ball handlers. Howard may be the best role player in the league because of his athleticism and finishing ability at the rim. Houston attempted the second-most three-pointers in league history last season, but lacked a physical presence inside. Surround them with floor spacing shooters and you have a recipe for a championship. Orlando advanced to the NBA Finals in 2009 using this core offensive philosophy, but Harden is a major upgrade over Hedo Turkoglu. The only player who attempted more free throws than Howard last season was Harden.

As Dwyane Wade gets up there in years, the Rockets may be housing one of the league’s preeminent duos. But now, the pressure is on Howard to win titles and he seems to be embracing it.

“I think, right now, I’m the oldest guy on the team so I’ll be the youngest veteran in the NBA. But it’s a great opportunity,” Howard told Hoopsworld.

Reputations can change overnight, but actions speak volumes. Last summer, Morey was perceived to be a mad scientist for trying to mortgage his franchise’s future on Jeremy Lin and Howard. Then, he acquired Harden from Oklahoma City. Similarly, the only thing that can return the shine to Howard’s fallen star is him lifting the Rockets to the West’s elite and hoisting a gleaming Larry O’Brien trophy. The jury's still out on whether he can get it done.

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