As All-Star NBA players Dwight Howard and Chris Paul enter free agency after vastly disappointing seasons that ended with first round playoff exits, the upstart Houston Rockets seem to be Lakerland’s biggest competition in terms of signing the talented enigma of a big man, and they may, too, be in the running for one of the league's most talented point guards.
Howard is reportedly torn between the prospect of staying in L.A. with the Lakers and the idea of joining forces with James Harden and Co. in Houston, according to an article by Sam Amick of USA Today.
The rumors aren’t exactly far-fetched when you consider that Houston has no state income tax and no millionaire tax (like there is in Los Angeles). In fact, according to Alex Kennedy of Hoopsworld, “Howard isn’t leaving much, if any, money on the table at all" (if he were to leave L.A. for Houston).
Rumblings from league sources hint that if Dwight was to leave Los Angeles after one lackluster season, he’d do so for a young and talented Rockets roster. But what if the Rockets front office upped the ante even further by going after Paul as well?
The prospect of seeing both D12 and CP3 suit up for the Rockets next season is difficult to fathom. However, the two superstars have reportedly talked about teaming up per SI.com, and, according to Rockets beat writer Jonathan Feigen, the organization will try and make them teammates in Texas.
According to Feigen’s article, a source familiar with the team’s plans said that Howard and Paul are “targets No. 1 and 1A.” Of course, as the two best free agents in the 2013 class, it’s logical to think that every team in the NBA would love to have one or both guys. The Rockets simply have the winning atmosphere and the chance of creating enough cap space needed to make a push.
They could create additional salary room with a trade package including 22-year-old forward Thomas Robinson and either Omer Asik or Jeremy Lin (each owed approximately $8.3 million next season). Creating an avenue to bring Howard and Paul to Houston may be a long shot, but it’s not impossible.
Rockets general manager Daryl Morey garnered a lot of attention last summer when he acquired superstar guard James Harden from the Oklahoma City Thunder. With his basketball and business know-how behind the scenes, the Rockets already made the leap from potential cellar dweller to playoff contender.
Even without Paul joining the party, the Rockets are an ideal fit for Howard. With Dwight on board, they’d closely resemble the 2009 Orlando Magic squad that made it to the NBA Finals.
However, they have one giant twist. Instead of just surrounding Dwight’s post game with lights-out shooters, the Rockets also have Harden, a budding NBA superstar with the ability to take the ball to the basket and get to the free-throw line with stunning regularity. (He essentially lived at the charity stripe during the regular season, attempting a league-leading 792 free throws).
Add Paul to that mix and the Rockets would have limitless options on offense.
CP3 could isolate and score (or, as I like to call it, the Vinny Del Negro offense), and so too could Harden, as he did so many times during the 2012-13 campaign. Howard could reap the benefits of a pick-and-roll tandem with Paul or revive the inside-out game he played in Orlando by finding Chandler Parsons, Harden and Paul for open threes.
The offense would make a mad scientist shudder, but the defense would be equally spectacular.
There’s no denying that Paul would be a huge defensive upgrade from Lin at the point guard spot. He isn’t a lockdown defender, but he’s led the league in steals five separate times. And a great transition team like Houston is undoubtedly licking its chops at the prospect of adding a guy like Paul who can create fast-break opportunities with his quick hands.
The Rockets have had their struggles on the defensive end, but none have hinged on the efforts of Omer Asik. As one of the best defenders in the game at staying straight up and not fouling, Asik proved himself to be an interior force all season long.
Howard, however, is still a three-time Defensive Player of the Year. His athleticism took a noticeable dip with the Lakers, but he still provides a solid defensive presence. He’s also one of the few players in the NBA that can outrebound Asik, so it's an upgrade in that regard.
Not only would the Rockets be an incredibly formidable team on paper, but they’d also be able to match up extremely well with other elite teams in the NBA.
They’d be able to compete offensively with OKC, the Memphis Grizzlies and the San Antonio Spurs due to the plethora of scoring threats that can spread the floor and disrupt defensive schemes. The upgraded Rockets would also have the luxury of adding the league’s best rebounder to fend off the league’s worst rebounding team: the Miami Heat—a team that has made the NBA Finals for three straight seasons.
The NBA has been dominated by a handful of notable trios:
Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili.
Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen.
Could Paul, Harden and Howard be the newest NBA “big three” next season?
Plenty of pieces have to fall into place between now and the start of the 2013-14 season for that to happen, but one thing is certain: If the Rockets add Howard and Paul to the roster, they will be championship contenders for years to come.