The Houston Rockets are coming off an offseason as lucrative as any. It started when, after stripping his roster, general manager Daryl Morey used three first-round picks to pick up three high-upside projects who, at the time, held value as cheap/young assets.
He then used a loophole in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement to swindle the Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks for two useful NBA starters (Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin). Armed with the resources provided in full from several transactions that were the result ofa dismantling of 2011's team, Morey acquired James Harden, his first superstar.
As far as offseasons go, Houston's was a successful as it gets. But the NBA is a cyclical race that never ends, and this summer the Rockets will be tasked with pairing Harden and another elite player. Coming off a year in which their offense was sixth best in the entire league, one slot higher than the San Antonio Spurs, the Rockets have already established an identity for themselves, and a serious strength. Depending on who Morey acquires, the Rockets could see themselves competing for a championship as soon as next season.
But their flaws are glaring. Houston led the NBA in turnover percentage last year, but persevered with a quick pace and true shooting percentage that ranked fourth, behind only the Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder and Spurs.
On top of turning it over a ton, Houston ranked as the fifth worst team in the league in post-up efficiency, per Synergy Sports. If the superstar they added was a center who could slow the game's pace down a bit, while still being athletic enough to thrive in the pick-and-roll and improve a defense that crumbled last year whenever Asik came off the floor, lightning would strike Houston twice in two summers.
Luckily, the ideal answer to their prayers is also on the market. Dwight Howard, a 27-year-old, seven-time All-Star and three-time Defensive Player of the Year who's coming off a down season in which he still managed to grab 12.4 rebounds per game—which led the league—can conceivably be theirs.
If their offseason is to be "perfect" for a second straight year, Howard needs to be signed. Here's how they can do it.
Houston sells the farm to Howard, pitching him all the advantages playing for the Rockets will bring. The pressure and expectations are less dense than in Los Angeles. The promise of youth, excitement, long runs with the same group for the next four years, at least; unofficial access to Hakeem Olajuwon whenever he wants it; everyday communication with Kevin McHale, one of basketball's all-time great low post navigators; the absence of an income tax for residents of Texas; and the favorable probability that for the first time in a very long time, basketball will be fun again.
These are all major selling points.
And if there's one thing we know about Howard, it's that he likes to have fun. The fit is too perfect. He's the key to unlocking Daryl Morey's treasure chest, and has been for some time. Seeing what one of the league's savviest general managers could do after he's procured two stars will be fascinating on various levels.
The center has his skeptics, but the argument for seeing him bounce back in good health has legs just as strong as believing last season was a sign of permanent decline instead of a 82-game, mid-career detour. Will he ever return to his All-NBA first team levels of dominance? It's impossible to know either way, but given his youth and tantalizing capacity to be the best or second best player on a championship-winning team, a four-year, $87.5 maximum contract is more than worth it from Houston's perspective.
How do they get there? First they need to exercise Francisco Garcia's $6.4 million team option, then waive Aaron Brooks, whose contract isn't guaranteed next season. Carlos Delfino, James Anderson, Tim Ohlbrecht and Greg Smith are also candidates to be waived.
If signing him outright doesn't work out, and Howard realizes all Houston can give him (far from a guarantee) and refuses a five-year, $117 million offer from the Lakers, Houston and Los Angeles could work out a sign-and-trade in which Howard lands with his third team in three years, and the Rockets most likely part ways with a package revolving around Asik and parts.
That way Howard gets his money and the Rockets get their second franchise player.
Aside from landing the decade's most dominant center, Houston would be wise to surround him and Harden with as many three-point shooters as possible, preferably those with playoff experience (as one of the youngest teams in the league, it'd be a great way of killing two birds with one stone).
Randy Foye, Willie Green, Roger Mason Jr., Jerry Stackhouse or Matt Barnes should all be available on veteran's minimum contracts.
As long as Howard ends up in Houston, Morey will have seen his perfect vision come true once again. The Rockets will have an All-Star duo who complement each other perfectly, and the team will finally be in position to make more headlines in early June than late July.
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