Biggest Reasons for Dwight Howard to Spurn LA Lakers for Houston Rockets
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This summer, Dwight Howard has a choice between west and south, between Hollywood glamor and Texas hospitality, between the past and the future.
The former started the 2012-13 campaign miserably, struggled in the middle, had an inspired but brief run to the playoffs, then fizzled out in an ignominious playoff sweep. There was drama, finger-pointing, firings and discontent.
Houston had little expected of it this season. The wins started to pile up. There was a struggle in January, but the team ended up first in the league in pace and second (by the merest of margins) in points per game. A good time was had by all, the squad has emerging stars and the future looks bright.
Judging by those synopses, the choice would be easy. But since Howard has demonstrated in the past a penchant for the dramatic, it's easy to envision the big man agonizing over his choice.
On the following pages, I humbly present cogent, convincing reasons that unwaveringly point D12 in one clear direction.
You Had Me at "Show Me the Money"
Ostensibly, since Howard was last seen in purple and gold, he'll make more gross money staying with the Lakers. In simple dollars (thanks again to Eric Pincus of Hoopsworld), Howard will make $3.7 million more over the first four years of his deal if he remains with the Lakers.
Ah, but then we have to account for Uncle Sam. California has a state millionaire's tax, versus the zero income tax the great state of Texas boasts. So in real dollars, D12 actually makes $1.1 million more wearing Rockets red and white.
Of course, there is the matter of that fifth year: L.A., being his last team, can offer him a five-year contract; the Rockets, along with any other NBA team, can counter with only four.
There's nothing Houston can offer to offset it. But as long as he takes out a massive Lloyd's of London insurance policy, he doesn't have to worry about losing the dollars because of injury.
Though the Hoopsworld article also mentions that even Howard's deal with the Lakers will likely have an opt-out option after the fourth year, a four-year deal with Houston actually gives him more flexibility to bolt if the Rockets' window of opportunity has somehow closed.
Which brings us to our next slide…
Houston Has a Nice Ring to It
Dwight's decision is Dickensian: a tale of two teams, one headed toward the best of times, the other careening toward the worst.
The Rockets' star began to twinkle with the arrival of James Harden. After Harden's transcendent season, the Beard has become arguably the league's finest shooting guard—especially with Howard's former teammate Kobe Bryant sidelined. Chandler Parsons is among the top 10 in the NBA at small forward. And Omer Asik has emerged as a defensive stalwart.
Translation: Houston has most of its pieces in place to make a run at the title. And with the Spurs destined to age at some point—not this year, but they can't avoid the immutable laws of nature forever—the Rockets with Howard would figure to be on par with the West's other best teams, the Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies.
The Lakers, on the other hand, are caught between the moon and New York City in so many ways. Kobe is sidelined indefinitely, which means next year will likely get off to a rocky start like this year did. And even when he does return, he becomes a free agent at the end of next season. Will the Lakers give another max contract to a 35-year-old who's now got an injury history?
Speaking of contracts, Steve Nash, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace have all got huge ones. Problem is, their games don't match their salaries. With the exception of Gasol, their skills have already diminished significantly, and next year they'll all be another year older and another year past their prime.
The Lakers have no standout young pieces to hang their hats on either and no cap room to acquire pieces.
In A Star Is Born parlance, one team is about to win an Oscar, while the other is about to walk into the Pacific Ocean. If Howard values winning and contending for a title, the choice is easy.
Be The Man...without being The Man
Kobe is out, on an expiring contract and turning 35. Nash is aging and cannot take over games anymore. And though Gasol can still ball, in this nice piece on forumblueandgold.com, Darius Soriano shows convincing stats that Pau's points, rebounding and shooting percentage all decline when he's paired with Howard.
Simply put, if he gets a max contract with the Los Angeles Lakers, Dwight Howard is The Man, period.
If the Lakers win, which is unlikely, Howard will get the credit, but he'll also have the Herculean responsibility of making it happen. If, however, the Lakers struggle, Howard will get blamed. And hell hath no fury like a Lakers fan watching a losing season. (Except for a Philly fan watching...well, anything.)
On the Rockets, however, there is already a Man by the name of James Harden. He gives his all every night. He loves to share the ball. He is self-effacing. And more than anything, he craves putting all the responsibility on his shoulders.
There is also a center, Omer Asik, who would be more than happy to defer to Howard when it comes to getting the ball down low. And on the other side of the ball, playing next to Asik means a good deal of the defensive pressure is off D12: Asik is good at defending, rebounding and blocking shots.
Finally, there are also young ancillary players on their way up who will take the heat off Howard. Should the Rockets figure out a way to keep Asik and get Howard at the same time, there are even young players at Howard's new power forward position, like Thomas Robinson, who are hungry to learn and would give it their all when the Rockets spell Howard. That means a lot for a guy still recovering from a bad back.
In other words, Howard can still have all the attention he craves, still be the mouthpiece of a team, still flash those pearly whites for the camera…but on the court, he can be what he prefers to be: a supremely talented cog in a finely tuned wheel.
No Tinseltown screenwriter could script a better opportunity for Howard's personality.
Finally...A Coach You Can Feel Good About
Dwight, when we look at your coaching tree, there's a lot of dry rot...from your perspective.
First, Orlando: According to this ESPN report, you had a hand in the firing of your first coach, Brian Hill. Your relationship with Stan Van Gundy...well, let's just say it's a wonder it didn't end up on Court TV.
In L.A., a Paris Hilton camisole would have fit you better than Mike Brown's Princeton offense. And ESPN reports that you went all Fatal Attraction on Mike D'Antoni in your postseason exit interview with Mitch Kupchak (as in the "I will not be ignored!" quote, not the dead rabbit on the stove).
In getting along with professional coaches, you're 0-for-4.
In Houston, however, there stands on the sidelines a man almost as tall as you. A man with one fewer NBA championship ring than you've had coaches. A man who, like you, was gifted defensively. A man who, unlike D'Antoni, would be delighted to feature you in his offense.
A man whose bust hangs in a place where your talent dictated you were headed before you lost your way: the Hall of Fame.
If ever a coach and a player were meant for each other, it's you and McHale. The other standout big man he drafted and mentored, Kevin Garnett, is still visibly fond of his former coach. McHale is serious about the game, but he keeps it loose enough that the Rockets players are seen laughing, joking and having a good time literally every contest.
Remember when you used to laugh, Dwight? It was often...but it was early.
It's not too late. You can have fun again, while you're getting paid, getting adored, getting respected and putting a ring on it.
Just take the 101 to the 10 East. You can follow the signs from there.
All the Tea in China
Ever since Yao Ming was a Rocket, China has been a nation of Houston fans. Jeremy Lin has carried on that connection, and the Rockets have retained one of the most devoted international followings of any NBA team.
And where there's fandom, there's money.
Remember, Howard and his shoe company, adidas, have been making moves in Asia for a while now. So if D12 were to end up a Rocket, he'd have the opportunity to expand his brand in a big way. Based on the way he blew off a camp in Orlando last summer, only to fly to Beijing shortly thereafter, Howard clearly recognizes the potential value of building a following in the Far East.
It's no coincidence that at the height of Yao's reign, Tracy McGrady had the best-selling jersey in China. If Howard ends up in Houston, he could quickly become the McGrady to Lin's Yao.
This, of course, assumes Lin remains with the Rockets. The team still needs to create more cap space to sign D12, and a trade involving either Lin or Asik could be a casualty of that need. But the Rockets are known for their creative accounting, so it's possible something else (like a Thomas Robinson deal) could be worked out.
The biggest incentive for Howard to remain with the Lakers is obviously money. L.A., including the fifth year of their contract, can pay him about $30 million more in pre-tax dollars than the Rockets can. The tax situation we discussed will greatly reduce the discrepancy.
The international marketing boost he'd get with the Rockets could possibly even erase it.