Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
On May 19, CBS Sports' Ken Berger reported that multiple league sources told him the Houston Rockets have emerged as one of the most intriguing suitors for Howard.
Berger cited the presences of All-Star James Harden, sharpshooter Chandler Parsons, bruiser Omer Asik and defensive whiz head coach Kevin McHale as potential draws to lure Howard to H-Town.
He also noted that the Rockets have the financial flexibility to make room for a substantial contract offer for the free agent, and they could clear that space without sacrificing any key contributors.
According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, the Rockets are already in the process of trying to clear said cap space. Per his May 30 report, Houston is determined to trade Thomas Robinson to clear his $3.52 million salary from its books.
Robinson is still less than a year removed from being selected with the fifth overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft. The fact that the Rockets are willing to jettison a player with such a team-friendly deal whose potential remains high is proof positive that they're not joking about their pursuit of Howard.
ESPN's Marc Stein confirmed this in his May 31 report, then added that the Rockets are "feeling hopeful" about their chances of luring Howard. He will reportedly sit down with Houston and the Dallas Mavericks when the free-agency period opens up.
Chris Sheridan of Sheridan Hoops also reported on May 31 that the Rockets were getting "hopeful signals" from Howard about his feelings on signing, and that the big man had mentioned his interest to Harden.
According to a May 31 tweet from Alex Kennedy of HoopsWorld, Houston is not only in the mix, but it might actually be the front-runner to land Howard's services.
Add in a report from Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle on June 9 that Howard and Chris Paul would be targets "1 and 1A" for the Rockets, and it's easy to see why we believe Houston is a very realistic landing spot for Howard.
Despite Harden's breakout season (25.9 points, 4.9 rebounds, 5.8 assists per game), the bearded one may have no problem ceding the leadership role to Howard. Harden played a supportive role to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook with the Oklahoma City Thunder and saw an NBA Finals trip as his reward.
And the players around Harden are in place to form a strong complementary core. There are defensive stoppers (Asik, Patrick Beverley) and scorers (Parsons, Jeremy Lin) who could help Houston thrive in a variety of styles.
The financial hit Howard may feel in the short term (L.A. can offer the most money and most years on his deal) would be lessened by the lack of a state income tax in Texas. It could be wiped out in a future deal if he can secure another max contract down the line.