Dwight Howard's Legacy Hinges on Winning Title with Houston Rockets

Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistJuly 7, 2013

Apr 28, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard (12) during the game against the San Antonio Spurs in game four of the first round of the 2013 NBA playoffs at the Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

It's all on Dwight Howard now. He's out of excuses.

By moving to the Houston Rockets, Howard ensured that he put himself in the best basketball situation. He's also opened himself up to a ton of scrutiny should things not work out.

In Orlando, Howard didn't have a great supporting cast, something he was all too happy to point out. So you could possibly forgive the big man for some of the Magic's disappointments in the playoffs.

Then in Los Angeles, Howard had to deal with a team that relied way too heavily on veterans like Metta World Peace, Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant. Not to mention that Mike D'Antoni's system was far from complimentary for Howard's offensive game.

Now that he's in Houston, Howard has all the pieces necessary to mount a genuine title challenge. The Rockets have a front office that seems to have its stuff together, one of the emerging stars in James Harden and a supporting cast that includes Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons.

That should be enough to make the Rockets competitive in what is a stacked Western Conference.

Howard has a lot to prove in Houston.

He was all too happy to run Stan Van Gundy out of town, essentially trying to make him the scapegoat. The whole thing was great if only because it led to that awesomely awkward interview where Van Gundy openly acknowledged Howard was trying to get him fired.

In LA, Howard apparently went to general manager Mitch Kupchak to talk about some problems he had with D'Antoni.

There comes a point when simply blaming the head coach doesn't cut it anymore, and Howard has gotten there.

The biggest difference between Howard being with the Rockets rather than the Magic and Lakers is that he needs Houston, rather than Houston needing him.

He chose to play with the Rockets. He wasn't traded to the team, nor was he drafted by it. Howard had his fair share of suitors, and ended up in Houston.

If it doesn't work out, Howard won't have any fingers left with which to point the blame. He won't be able to throw Kevin McHale or Harden under the bus. The fans already love Harden too much, and you can't blame the coach this many times and not get the "coach-killer" label.

There are still plenty of critics out there who think Howard is immature and doesn't have the demeanor with which to become a truly great player.

Aside from the mental issues, Howard has to demonstrate that he is in fact one of the best big men to play the game.

When he was about 24 or 25, Howard looked like he would become a force on the inside. While he's remained a great post defender, he has yet to make significant improvements in his offensive game. His highest scoring average was 22.9 points a game, and only four times in nine seasons has he averaged more than 20 points in a season.

Howard has turned into a poor man's Shaquille O'Neal, or an improved version of Tyson Chandler, however you want to see it.

Those aren't exactly comparisons that you'd make when talking about a great player.

No matter what happens in Houston, Howard will almost certainly be remembered as a very good player and likely a Hall of Fame candidate.

This is where the player can change his career narrative, though.

By winning a title, Howard can shed so many of the negative labels that have dogged him throughout his career. He can show that he's grown up as both a player and a person, much like LeBron James has done with the Miami Heat.

Then again, he could also struggle on the court and drag the Rockets down with him.