Are the Houston Rockets currently the front-runner in the Dwight Howard sweepstakes?
Acquiring Howard changes the entire dynamic for a Houston team that could easily become a major player in the Western Conference with the flick of Howard's wrist, assuming he ultimately signs a contract to play for the Rockets, of course.
According to a recent ESPN report, sources say that Dwight plans to make his decision Friday, July 5, but of course, the question everyone wants to know: Who is he going to play for this upcoming NBA season and in the near future?
Well, word from Dwight's camp is rather hush-hush, and as of yet, where he'll ultimately end up is anyone's guess.
Following a meeting with officials from the Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks on July 1, one source close to the situation remarked to ESPNLosAngeles' Dave McMenamin, "There is no frontrunner [in the race for Dwight Howard]."
A few days later, the race is still as close as ever, and you can expect D12's PR team to ensure no loose lips sink the proverbial ship that is Dwight's secret decision.
While the Houston Rockets certainly have their sights set on bringing Mr. Howard aboard, he isn't the only free agent they're targeting.
Similarly talented but lacking the big-market exposure or resume of a Dwight Howard, Josh Smith of Atlanta Hawks fame is also a major priority for Houston, according to a report courtesy of USAToday.
In all honesty, say the Rockets miss out on Howard, Josh Smith isn't exactly a terrible backup option to appease a fanbase that might be sore if the team loses out on the Howard deal.
Like Howard, Smith is incredibly athletic for his position, still malleable skill-wise and, ultimately, he fits in with their young core. He is also a skilled defender who can feasibly be played at the 3 or 4 depending on what lineup the Rockets choose to go with at a given time.
Unfortunately, Smith also makes some confounding mental decisions with the basketball in his hands, but considering he would fit in with a Rockets team that loves to run the floor, there's no question he would be worth the questionable decision-making for this squad.
As referenced in the aforementioned report, Houston not only plans on adding Howard, but it would actually seek to acquire both Howard and Smith by shedding additional salary.
The same report also mentions the possibility of Houston moving Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik to get it done—and frankly, if they have the opportunity, they absolutely have to pull the trigger on a deal like that.
Asik and Lin are not bad players by any means, but neither has an impact on both ends of the floor to the tune of Smith or Howard.
The latter of the two names is in a different stratosphere athletically, and considering this is a team that loves to run, you absolutely have to add two guys who'd probably fit in seamlessly if the opportunity presents itself.
Despite this report, however, GM Daryl Morey himself, in a statement to Jonathan Feigen of UltimateRockets asserts he has no plans of dealing away either Lin or Asik, but again, the option is available.
While shedding Lin and Asik is on the table, the Rockets didn't hesitate in removing some other personnel, undoubtedly for salary purposes.
The Rockets cut Carlos Delfino and Aaron Brooks several days ago, and that move made it clear that Houston's front office is going to whatever it takes to bring a brand new big name to H-Town.
In shedding Brooks and Delfino, the Rockets subtracted guards from their rotation, but they did it in order to ensure they can bolster their frontcourt, especially at the 4-spot.
Let's say the Rockets get their man in Howard; such a move would allow Houston to play a twin towers lineup that features both Asik and Dwight on the floor. But if they only manage to snag Smith, they could interchangeably switch one for the other in the rotation—Asik at the 5, Smith at the 4.
Either way, Houston manages to address its frontcourt problem, but that's only if the Rockets manage to get either J-Smoove or D12.
Which scenario is most likely for the Houston Rockets?
Regardless of the outcome, Houston's front office absolutely deserves tremendous credit for continuing to aggressively turn things around. After landing James Harden in a trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder last season, Daryl Morey is certainly going to make a splash this offseason as well.
If the worst-case scenario happens and Houston gets nothing, well, there's not much the team can do. In all honesty, however, it is too early for Houston fans to celebrate or give up hope altogether.
There simply isn't enough information to confirm Houston's direction one way or the other, but as it stands, Friday will likely be judgement day for one of the league's most polarizing players.