In the most literal sense, the Houston Rockets are the true victors of the Dwight Howard sweepstakes. After all, they're the ones with whom D12 will reportedly sign as soon as the league's moratorium on player movement ends on July 10.
I've decided to become a member of the Houston Rockets. I feel its the best place for me and I am excited (cont) http://t.co/h8WK4yP3zB— Dwight Howard (@DwightHoward) July 6, 2013
But there are a number of secondary winners and losers—some more closely connected to the actual Howard signing than others—who have to be mentioned in any thorough analysis of the offseason's biggest move.
Winner: Dwight Howard
Let's see: Howard will end up on a team next year where everyone doesn't hate him (something you could never have said if he had re-signed with the Los Angeles Lakers), and he'll be surrounded by a supporting cast that is actually tailored to supplement his particular skills.
Sounds like a winner to me.
Houston is a team built on the same model of one-in, four-out offense in which Howard enjoyed his greatest success with the Orlando Magic. With four perimeter players surrounding him, he'll be free to operate in the post and on the glass without two or three extra bodies hanging all over him.
In addition, Kevin McHale could hardly be more different from Mike D'Antoni, the coach with whom Howard spent a season publicly clashing. D'Antoni's ego, inability to communicate with players and stubborn reliance on his own style clearly didn't appeal to Howard.
McHale, on the other hand, isn't married to any one definitive style. Instead, he does what the Rockets' shrewd management tells him to do.
When Houston decided that a run-and-gun attack was the best way to maximize the team's talent, McHale subjugated his typical preferences for defense and went right along with the high-octane offensive philosophy. That type of flexibility will make things much easier on Howard.
Howard is now surrounded by young talent, largely free from pressure and living in a place where his $88 million contract won't be subject to state income taxes. Dwight's summer has been pretty good.
Loser: The Lakers
Anytime a prized free agent tells his former team "thanks, but no thanks," said former team is going to wind up in the "loser" section here.
In hindsight, we now know the Lakers made a terrible miscalculation when they assembled their roster last summer, and then compounded that error by bringing in a coach who couldn't have been a worse fit for the personnel on hand.
Losing Howard is bad, but his departure also represents the culmination of a series of poor decisions. Even worse, his exit symbolizes that the Lakers aren't what they used to be. It's no longer enough for them to rely on awing free agents with a championship pedigree and tales of the significance of being a Laker.
Those things aren't enough to overcome the reality that the Lakers are mismanaged, poorly coached and lacking talent. They'll get a chance to start over in the summer of 2014, but the prospect of a very ugly upcoming season looms large.
Winner: Daryl Morey
Rockets GM Daryl Morey was already highly regarded around the league because of his early adoption of analytics, but the acquisition of Howard solidifies his place among the NBA's elite executives.
Houston has now totally rebuilt itself into a championship contender without bottoming out or hoping to get lucky in the draft. With four straight winning seasons since shifting away from the Yao Ming-Tracy McGrady version of the team, the Rockets have accomplished the impossible feat of winning games and rebuilding at the same time.
And Morey has presided over all of it.
He hauled in the biggest prize of the summer last year when he pilfered James Harden from the Oklahoma City Thunder, and now he's done it again.
Best of all, the Rockets are still extremely flexible and continue to ride the crest of the NBA's analytical wave. They're as well positioned as anyone to remain in contention for a very long time.
Loser: Omer Asik
It probably doesn't have to be this way, but Omer Asik seems to want nothing to do with Howard as a teammate. Per Brian Windhorst of ESPN, the Turkish big man may be asking out of Houston.
Omer Asik doesn't want to play with Dwight Howard; Hawks will listen on sign-and-trade with Josh Smith: http://t.co/87hl2NXdCH— Brian Windhorst (@WindhorstESPN) July 5, 2013
Apparently, Asik got used to playing starter's minutes after just one season with the Rockets and isn't too keen on returning to the bench.
There's no doubt Asik and Howard have similar skills, a fact that makes it highly unlikely both would ever log much time together on the court. But Asik could very well take a reserve role and function as an elite bench player for something like 20 minutes per game.
Instead, he'll likely end up watching the Rockets make a deep playoff run from afar.
Winner: Golden State Warriors
The Golden State Warriors didn't end up with Howard, but in their effort to make themselves appealing to the big man, they wound up with Andre Iguodala and millions of dollars in savings after unloading a couple of horrible contracts and draft picks onto the Utah Jazz.
It might sound strange to peg the Warriors as winners here, but they clearly took the safest road to improving themselves. Plus, they won't have to deal with the headaches and expectations that would have come along with Howard.
Just when the day couldn't get any better for the Warriors, their decision to commit to Igoudala as the sure thing is affirmed.— Scott Howard-Cooper (@SHowardCooper) July 6, 2013
Perhaps more importantly, they won't have to risk Howard poisoning one of the most cohesive, mature locker rooms in the NBA.
In summary, the Warriors landed an All-Star, saved money, got rid of almost all of their contractual dead weight and retained all of their key players. They didn't land Howard, but they got almost everything else they wanted.
Losers: Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks
The Dallas Mavericks missed out on all of the prime free agents last summer, and after positioning themselves to make a run at Howard this year, they've come up empty again.
Part of the reason for their failure is that the best they could offer Howard was the promise of a chance to compete for a title in 2014-15, after Dirk Nowitzki theoretically would have agreed to a drastically reduced deal. After waiting a year, that would have allowed the Mavs to get another superstar free agent.
But as Nowitzki ages and the Mavs slip further behind the Rockets and San Antonio Spurs in Texas, it looks like Dallas' status as a marquee franchise is fading away.