Dwight Howard's decision to join the Houston Rockets has plenty of Space City residents excited about the franchise's prospects in the near future, and head coach Kevin McHale might have the highest hopes of all.
According to Michael Wallace of ESPN, McHale said of his expectations for a Howard-led Rockets team: "We'll see. Let's get everybody together. I'm looking forward to getting together with the team and putting everything together. I feel really comfortable we can compete with anybody."
The Rockets shot past even the most optimistic preseason predictions last year, making the playoffs and comporting themselves well against an Oklahoma City Thunder team that made the NBA Finals in 2012. The first-round exit was disappointing for the franchise, but merely making it to the postseason was something of a win for a team that just about everyone had pegged as a lottery participant.
And now that Howard is on board, it's not surprising that expectations are soaring.
With James Harden emerging as one of the league's most dangerous offensive forces and a boatload of young talent on the roster, Howard's presence should help tie everything together. Because as good as Houston was offensively last season, it lacked a consistent interior presence and suffered whenever opponents managed to slow down its somewhat gimmicky run-and-gun attack.
For what it's worth, Howard is already reciprocating McHale's positive vibes.
Howard excited to play 4 HOU coach: "No offense to Mike D’Antoni but we’re talking about Kevin McHale, who had a million moves in the post."— Mike Bresnahan (@Mike_Bresnahan) July 6, 2013
Skeptics would be quick to point out that things are always rosy between Howard and his head coach at first. How D12 gets along with McHale a few months into the regular season will be far more telling about the team's future than what player and coach are saying now.
McHale has a right to be optimistic. After all, his team just added the league's most physically dominant big man to a roster that was good enough to make the playoffs last year. Plus, after the reported four-year, $88 million deal (player option on the fourth), Howard has more to prove than ever.
So there's a good chance the Rockets are going to get the very best, most committed version of Howard imaginable.
Per Wallace, McHale said: "I anticipate him coming in and doing what he did for years: being the best, most dominant center in the league."
To get through a loaded Western Conference that will feature at least a half-dozen championship-caliber teams, Howard will have to be that good. Apparently, McHale is confident he will be.