July 12, 2012 by kujhawk
Thank you, Dwight Howard.
Yes, that sentence is probably the last thing anyone who is a fan of the Houston Rockets would like to say to Mr. Howard at the moment. The Dwight Howard “saga” as I like to call it, has torn apart what has been a pretty solid team for the past couple of seasons in Houston. Although they haven’t made the playoffs in the past three seasons and have been in the draft lottery (with the 14th pick though), they have contended, and finished over .500 the past 2 years. This past season, it took a complete and utter collapse in the last 2 weeks of the season for the Rockets to miss the playoffs. They went 2-9 down the stretch and went from having a chance at the 6 seed in the Western conference to being the odd man out, leaving players, coaches, fans and the front office scratching their heads wondering what the next step was for this team that seemed to be just one player away from success.
The Rockets have always been a star driven franchise. Over the course of their history, some very big names have donned the Rockets uniform. Here are a few just in case you didn’t know: Moses Malone, Elvin Hayes, Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler, Scottie Pippen, Yao Ming, Charles Barkley, Tracy McGrady, Robert Horry, Sam Cassell. That is a big list, and I am probably leaving off a couple of names, but you get the idea. This pattern has led current Houston general manager Daryl Morey to make some drastic moves to try and get the next “big one” to Houston. Not since the arrival of Yao Ming in 2002 has the talk of such a “big one” been heard so often around the city. But the problem with Dwight Howard is, HE DOES NOT WANT TO PLAY IN HOUSTON. But unfortunately for the Rockets and their fan base, Morey does not want to acknowledge this. Numerous reports have come out saying Howard only wants to play in Brooklyn (the new home of the New Jersey Nets next season for those of you who haven’t been paying close attention to the NBA) and if he gets shipped any where else by the Orlando Magic, he will not sign a contract extension. Granted, Howard is a big time player and he has been there before, leading the Magic to the playoffs numerous years and the NBA finals once, but he should not be mentioned in the same conversation as Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Kevin Durant.
The NBA used to be a Center driven league, with the likes of David Robinson, Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing and the list goes on. But that was the 80’s and 90’s. This is a new era of basketball. You have guys 6’8, 6’9 and 6’10 bringing the ball up the court, shooting 3’s and driving down the lane on smaller guys. Players didn’t used to be able to do that. The traditional big man, you know what I’m talking about – the big bruiser who got rebounds and scored purely in the post. A player who could play and guard one position, the 5. Now with so many hybrid 3-4 and 4-5 guys out there, players like Howard are becoming increasingly rare. Yes, he is a FREAK athlete. Chiseled out of stone, huge wingspan, can jump out of the gym, but he is stuck in the low post, he is as close to a pure center as there is in the NBA right now in my opinion. But the bottom line is this: if you want to build a team around a player, you can’t do it solely around a big man anymore. Those times are over.
Enter: Daryl Morey. The Rockets have had success under Morey since he took over as GM in 2007. The team has made three playoff appearances and even has a playoff series win (the first in what seemed like forever to the city formerly known as clutch). But since the global basketball icon and solid 20-10 guy Yao Ming decided to retire due to injury problems in June of 2011, the shine of a star player has left the bayou city and Morey needs something to replace that. Fast forward to the beginning of the 2011-12 season. Dwight Howard, perennial all star, proven winner in the NBA, is upset with his handlers in Orlando. He wants out, and he wants his pick. He picks New Jersey (now Brooklyn). Well as you might expect, the big-wigs do not like being told what’s what, and he is denied a trade and plays out the 2011-12 season. Now it is summer, and things get interesting. If Howard is traded, he can play one season with whoever gets him and then has two options – sign an extension or don’t sign and become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2013. Daryl Morey sees his opportunity. He thinks he can bring together enough pieces to entice Orlando into moving Howard. Get some draft picks, a couple of players, deal them to Orlando and try to build around Howard and sign him to an extension. Gone now are Marcus Camby, Kyle Lowery, Chase Budinger, Samuel Dalembert and Goran Dragic – all major contributors to last year’s team, and Courtney Lee could be following them (rumors are he could be going to the Celtics in a sign-and-trade deal). In are three first-round draft picks Jeremy Lamb, Royce White and Terrence Jones, future first and second-round picks, forward Gary Forbes, guard Toney Douglas, and centers Josh Harrelson and Jerome Jordan. Do you recognize any of those names? Okay, I do, but its my job to know who they are. But the average or even above-average fan doesn’t know who those guys are. They aren’t difference makers. They are middle-of-the-road NBA talent looking for some playing time. The pieces the Rockets are putting together are puzzling, and not in a good way.
Who will be playing point guard? Former Rockets point guard Goran Dragic’s little brother Zoran is at Rockets camp right now. Maybe he can fill in his brother’s shoes. Maybe Scott Machado, the undrafted 2012 NCAA assists leader can make a move. Or maybe Linsanity will arrive at the Toyota Center. Jeremy Lin has agreed to a deal with the Rockets, but the Knicks can match the offer and will most likely do so, considering the money river that will flow due to the Asian-born Harvard youngster’s brief stellar run in the middle of last season that caught the attention of the country for a few weeks.
With point guard up in the air, what about the center position? Camby and Dalembert are gone, Harrelson and Jordan are in, but neither has had a significant impact in their brief careers. Enter: Omer Asik. Who in the hell is Omer Asik you are probably asking? Well he is a seven-footer from Turkey who has been – lets just say – a defensive specialist for the Chicago Bulls. The Rockets agreed to an offer sheet with him as well last week, but the Bulls can and most likely will match the offer the Rockets have on the table, but the jury is still out on that one.
All in all, the Houston Rockets are in a state of confusion at the moment. Management will stay optimistic about Howard, saying the team is “in the hunt” and also “in the hunt” for Lakers center Andrew Bynum, adding that talks for the player are “in the works” but both of these moves are long shots at best. The current players on the roster? Well, most of them will be coming out with something to prove. They will talk about how they are”excited for the opportunity” and “don’t really care” about what moves the GM is trying to make. It looks like the best thing fans can hope for is a mediocre year this year, followed by a couple more years of the same while young talent currently on the roster (yes there is some, Morris, Parsons, Patterson) grows and matures and the bounty of draft picks the team has acquired shape into a title contending team in…..lets say 2016 as a rough estimate. Unless a miracle occurs, Houston Rockets fans will be watching attentively on NBA draft lottery night for years to come, hoping for the number one pick and finally having their next big star.
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