With free agent Dwight Howard's future up in the air, one of the most attractive franchises to possibly lure him away from the Los Angeles Lakers is the upstart Houston Rockets.
The superstar center has been wishy-washy for years about where he wants to end up, but James Harden thinks Houston has a chance to land him.
Marc Stein of ESPN.com talked to Harden about the possibility after the Rockets' season-ending loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder:
"Asked specifically about the Lakers' Howard, with the Rockets widely regarded as the team with the best shot of stealing him away from L.A., Harden broke into a smile and added: 'Maybe. Possibly.'"
This begs the question: Can it actually happen?
I'm not about to guess what's going on in the mind of Dwight Howard, but I do know that Houston is a sensible move for several reasons.
Firstly, the franchise offers cap space for his inevitably massive contract.
Harden, Jeremy Lin, Chandler Parsons and Omer Asik are all under contract through 2015, yet the team's 2013-14 payroll will likely be in the $40 million range sans Howard. Depending on how the offseason shakes out, the Rockets would have to pay little to no luxury tax.
Only a select few suitors, such as the Dallas Mavericks, have that kind of flexibility. What Dallas (or Los Angeles, for that matter) doesn't have is the assemblage of young talent that Rockets general manager Daryl Morey has collected.
Harden is already a superstar at 23 years old, and he hasn't yet reached his full potential. Parsons and Lin are both 24 and poised to enter their primes, and Asik (26) is a rock-solid young role player.
This young core is more than just a collection of talented players—they're willing passers who would find ways to get Howard the ball.
Dwight could team with them and do some serious damage in the Western Conference for the next half-dozen years. And I'm not talking just second round or conference finals potential. The opportunity for championships is there.
It would be a win-win situation for all: The Rockets would acquire a legitimate low-post scoring option and a superb defender, while Dwight would be surrounded by a high-energy supporting cast.
In Houston, Howard would be able to create his own legacy but still have a star like Harden to collaborate with. That's something he wouldn't be able to find in the major markets.
Another disadvantage of major-market locations such as New York or California? Income tax. There's no income tax in Texas, which means his contract would be significantly more enriching than most other places. That's not going to be the primary reason for his move to Houston, but it could be a factor.
Overall, the Rockets offer the best combination of basketball potential and personal gain. Howard will be tempted to return to the Lakers, a franchise steeped in winning tradition and big-man success.
But Kobe Bryant's not going to be the same player and the supporting cast isn't getting any younger, either. It's doubtful that Dwight's thrilled about the future of the club.
I wouldn't be surprised if a big part of him wants to leave L.A., and if he does, Houston has a great chance of landing him.