Dwight Howard is one of the most coveted free agents in the past few seasons, but his value isn't as high as it was a few years back. It's probably because of his ongoing uncertainty and seemingly regressed play with the Los Angeles Lakers, which makes other teams have a second thought about signing him to a max deal.
In the Houston Rockets' case, it's not necessarily what's available in free agency that should matter to them, but what they actually need on their team.
They should look to fill in other holes on their team—primarily the starting power forward position, which the team experimented with throughout the season but still unable to find a legitimate answer.
Quality Power Forwards Available on the Market
The pool of talented, quality power forwards available in 2013 is exceptionally large.
The first category consists of borderline All-Stars like Josh Smith, David West and Paul Millsap. Each one of those players may be the missing piece that every championship-contending team is looking for, and they are surefire difference makers when they step onto the court.
West would most likely opt to stay with the Indiana Pacers after the successful season he experienced with them, so him signing with the Rockets is a bit far-fetched. However, both Smith and Millsap would be great veteran additions to a young team in the midst of rebuilding to contend for a championship in the next few years.
Smith's versatility on defense is a luxury to have for a team that finished 16th in defensive efficiency last season (per Hollinger's Team Stats). Millsap, on the other hand, is a versatile scorer who could shoot from anywhere on the court. As a four, he can stretch the floor and open up driving lanes for James Harden and Jeremy Lin to operate and he could be the receiver to pick and pops.
If Millsap or Smith end up being too expensive for the Rockets' tastes, they could settle for other productive power forwards like Carl Landry or Andray Blatche, who will both be much cheaper than the aforementioned options.
Landry has recently opted out of the second year of his contract with the Golden State Warriors (via NBA.com), so he's probably seeking a more lucrative contract than the $4 million he was set to earn for next season. If the Rockets miss the opportunity to sign either Millsap or Smith, then giving Landry a second shot with the team doesn't sound bad at all.
When everything is said and done, the Rockets will not be able to sign two more players to max contracts. They should look to find a quality power forward first, before looking at Dwight Howard.
Omer Asik is a Better Fit
Last offseason, the Rockets already offered Omer Asik a $25 million contract over three years, which was considered to be a drastic overpayment. Daryl Morey was betting on Asik's production in limited minutes to translate into a starting role, and it worked out at the end.
In 2012-13, Asik averaged 10.1 PPG and 11.7 RPG in just 30 minutes per game (per Basketball Reference). His interior defense and rim protection in the paint was always good, but it was his offensive game that has expanded very quickly.
He was known as a terrible finisher at the rim prior to last season, and it was evident by the numbers. According to Hoop Data, Asik only finished 52 percent of his attempts at the rim in the 2011-12 season, which is horrendous for a 7'0", 260-pound center. For comparison, Tony Parker converted on 68.8 percent of his shots at the rim in 2012-13.
Fortunately, Asik did improve his finishing abilities and offensive game in the past season. He still only managed to convert on 60.5 percent of his attempts at the rim in 2012-13, but it's a huge improvement over the year before.
Another aspect of Asik is that he doesn't expect to have a huge role in the offense. He knows that his primary focus for the Rockets is to rebound and anchor the defense in the paint, and that's exactly what he does.
If Howard comes to the Rockets, Asik will most likely be gone unless the team wants to have a backup center who's getting paid $25 million. Unlike Asik, Howard will probably demand a bigger role on offense like he did with the Lakers this past season. He wants more touches in the post, but he's not a great offensive player and the team will still revolve around Harden.