With the NBA season here, you’ve probably noticed we’ve been pumping out enough preview content to bury even Hasheem Thabeet. Over the past week, we’ve been taking a look at the 10 biggest storylines of the 2013-14 season. Today, our final storyline details Dwight Howard‘s inevitable redemption story…
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Coming off two tumultuous seasons, this past summer Dwight Howard made the best decision of his professional basketball life: He left Los Angeles, the pressure, the stress, the spotlight and the extra money they could have offered him and went to Houston.
How much must Howard have hated Los Angeles? He left roughly $30 million on the table to avoid being screamed at by Kobe, in a system that didn’t fit him and having to deal with a fanbase that treats every Laker game the way NFL fans treat their games.
Not sure you believe that?
Those were his specific demands during his negotiations. He could not have gotten out of dodge fast enough. But not only was it a quality of life decision; it was also a basketball decision and a very good one. Trading an aging and angry Kobe Bryant for a young and easier to deal with James Harden is a shrewd move, and the way you know that is the opinion of general managers across the NBA, who just ranked Harden as the top shooting guard in the NBA.
All career decisions are a gamble. But Howard bet right, even if it did mean taking less money in the short term. Here’s why:
While it’s true that Howard left money on the table, due to the Lakers having the ability to offer him the most money via Bird rights under the CBA, making $88 million isn’t a reason to cry for anyone and he actually isn’t losing out as much as you’d think. Texas has no state income tax, which means that Howard will keep more of his contract money in Houston than he would in California. It’s also true that the money for local endorsement deals is less in Houston than in Los Angeles but that’s not too much of a ding in the wallet.
In that respect, Houston is perfect for Howard because he already has a national brand, meaning he has enough star power to sell you cheeseburgers regardless of where he’s playing. What Howard needs is less national scrutiny. Cable sports networks will have a harder, though not impossible, time sniping at Howard in Houston than in L.A.
This leads to a higher quality of life. Dwight Howard is a great basketball player, but he’s not a stone cold assassin, nor does he liked to be yelled at in public. He didn’t like it when Stan Van Gundy did it in Orlando, he hated every second of Kobe doing it in L.A., and he’d hate it if someone did it in Houston. Yet there is less of a chance of it happening with the Rockets than in his prior stops just based on the personalities that already exist there. Also, there’s less of a chance of anyone hearing it in Houston, as the coach there isn’t the brother of a famous commentator and there aren’t several million rabid Laker fans and reporters lurking behind every corner. L.A. is a great place for lots of athletes, but not for Howard, at least not with the circumstances he found himself in upon landing there.
The most immediate impact, and likely most covered aspect, is the defense Howard brings. His presence will allow the Rockets to cover up some perimeter defensive issues (see Lin, Jeremy) and should make them a better rebounding team. But he also opens things up for the Rockets on offense. When Houston needs a bucket, a quick screen and roll between James Harden and Howard, similar to what Ray Felton and Tyson Chandler do with the Knicks, is going to be money in the bank. With both stars able to attack the rim, and potential double-teams on Howard that will help Harden do more of this, Houston could be in competition with Lob City for the most entertaining team in the league. Furthermore, with Kevin McHale as coach, and Hakeem Olajuwon close by, it’s possible that Howard could improve his post moves by consulting two of the best of all time. That may be mere logic talking, and logic hasn’t always played a part in the Dwight Howard story, but the decision to come to Houston opens up the prospect that he’s turned over a new leaf and will be coming up with more creative ways to slam home the rock.
The addition of Howard also makes Houston one of the more difficult matchups across the Western Conference. If the Rockets have a playoff rematch against the Thunder, does Oklahoma City have anyone who can truly stop Dwight down low? If Houston has to match up with the Clippers, does L.A. have anyone who can stop Harden on the wing? What kind of time does San Antonio have to spend in the fountain of youth to have anyone who can stop either?
Winning cures everything in sports. Even the past few years when Howard was getting knocked around for his odd bouts of indecision in Orlando (wanting a trade then signing an extension, demanding Van Gundy fired then getting outta dodge anyway), all of that would have been cured had the team made deeper runs in the playoffs. This past year with the Lakers was a nightmare for Howard, and one in which he was actually a fairly innocent party. Dwight Howard didn’t decide to spurn Phil Jackson and hire Mike D’Antoni, thus trading a system that would’ve fit the Lakers personnel like a glove in favor of putting in a system that fit like a mini-skirt on a blue whale. Howard, and his teammates, was subject to the Shakespearean machinations coming from the luxury box while getting screamed at by a great player who was never a great teammate in good times, let alone in bad.
Simply put, Howard has left a dumpster fire and made the Rockets the most intriguing team in the Western Conference. With every win, his redemption writes its own script.
How good will Houston be this season?
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