Why? Because Howard has demanded a trade to two specific destinations: the Brooklyn Nets and Dallas Mavericks—but the Nets no longer have the free cap space to acquire Howard after its decision to acquire Joe Johnson, and the Mavericks do not have the assets to tempt the Magic into a trade.
Only the Rockets have the young assets to make a competitive offer to Howard while remaining a strong team, even if he chooses to leave after one season in Houston.
The Rockets also have young All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry on the roster (and the emerging Goran Dragic to conveniently replace him if re-signed), as well as veteran former stars Luis Scola and Kevin Martin. Houston also has restricted free-agent shooting guard Courtney Lee (who they could sign and trade and who began his career by reaching the 2009 NBA Finals with Orlando) and Patrick Patterson available to include in any trade.
That means the Rockets could package Luis Scola (who they want to replace with Patterson anyway), Lee (who Lamb will replace) and Terrence Jones for Howard, which would barely hurt Houston's depth and would still be the most compelling offer available to Orlando. After all, if you were the Magic, wouldn't you take that over the Dallas Mavericks' potential offer of Shawn Marion, Brendan Haywood and Rodrigue Beaubois?
And, not to feed into any conspiracy theory rumor mill, but won't Orlando want to send Howard to a destination he does not favor after all the damage his antics have done to their franchise the last two seasons?
Many factors could certainly interfere to derail the Rockets' path to Howard: For example, the Magic center could widen his list of teams to include the Chicago Bulls, who can put together a great trade package around Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson if Howard agrees to sign an extension. But, as things stand at present, Howard's chosen options do not appear to be a fit for Orlando.
So, for better or worse, that leaves Houston, which means Howard will follow in Hakeem Olajuwon's footsteps and become a Rocket next season.
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