The optimism, however, is all based on Dwight Howard’s illustrious past.
The six-time NBA rebounding leader, five-time leader of defensive wins shared and last player to carry a slightly above-average Orlando Magic team to an NBA Finals appearance spent his first season away from the franchise that drafted him in 2012-13.
It was a departure that led to mixed results. While Howard finished second behind DeAndre Jordan in field-goal percentage and once again led the league in rebounding at 12.4 a game, he also spent the majority of the season making headlines for complaining about the coaching staff, as mentioned by ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin.
What was hyped as the most talented team in the NBA a year ago—and debatably the No. 2 most highly anticipated team of all time, according to Bleacher Report featured columnist Peter Emerick—crumbled when the team failed to meet lofty expectations.
Hopefully the chemistry issues that plagued Los Angeles a year ago will not follow Howard as he heads to the Rockets. Whether Howard has put aside the ego that many fans and pundits pointed to as the reason for the Lakers' failures remains to be seen, but a change of scenery should do wonders for the nine-year veteran.
Dwight even appeared envious of other buzz-worthy teams at times. A January 5, 2013, article by NBC Los Angeles’ Shahan Ahmed quoted Howard regarding the Lakers' camaraderie after a game against the crosstown rival Los Angeles Clippers.
It really starts off the court; you have to have that relationship and that chemistry off the court to blossom on the court. Those guys, the Clippers, seem to really enjoy each other off the court. It takes everybody’s concerted effort to make it happen.
Despite living in the very surreal world of being an NBA superstar, it appears Howard remains grounded in his acknowledging of the importance of human relationships.
If only he could not mention the superiority of opposing teams in interviews, fans would have significantly less to gripe about concerning the 6’11’’ center.
If he can put the struggles of 2012-13 behind him, he should be well equipped to deal with similar adversity should it surface in his first year or at any other time in his expected four-year career in Houston.
Below are a few reasons for hope and a few reasons for caution for the Rockets as they look forward to their first season with Dwight Howard in town.
Hope: Taking Steps to Build the Off-Court Chemistry He Believes In
Several of Howard’s new Rockets teammates have come forth stating they are excited to get to know Dwight Howard.
New teammate Chandler Parsons steals the show with his appearance on The Jim Rome Show, and mentioning his deep excitement for getting to know Dwight even better does not hurt, either.
Jeremy Lin has also expressed excitement, and said he was ready to get to know Howard in 2012.
And of course, James Harden and Howard were seen soon after Howard announced his signing with the Rockets by posing for an instagram photo with matching hand signs, As made clear by Bleacher Report featured columnist Timothy Rapp.
Clearly, Howard is looking for a more team-like atmosphere than what he experienced in Los Angeles.
If he can remain happy with his teammates in Houston, he will reward the team handsomely.
Though he failed to adapt to the Lakers locker room, it is hard to blame Howard for all the issues Los Angeles had. That he was quoted in the previously mentioned Shahan Ahmed article questioning team chemistry as early as January proves he was simply unhappy for a long period of time. It is hard to take his side, considering his salary, but could it be that other things are important to Dwight Howard?
Ultimately, he was not able to be the dominant low-post force to pair with Kobe Bryant’s elite offensive game.
Some of that is Bryant’s stubbornness, the other part that Howard did not respond well over the long-term course of the season to that same stubbornness.
Howard’s new pick-and-roll partner, James Harden, had a highly productive average of 25.9 points per game to lead the Rockets in scoring. It was his first season as a full-time starter in 2012-13, and Harden’s first year leading his team in scoring and averaging over 20 points per game. Bryant, who led the Lakers in scoring and beat Harden’s 2012-13 average by 2.4 points per game, has scored over 20 points in 14 straight seasons.
It’s easy to guess which locker room Howard felt more comfortable walking into, and though any fan, particularly a Los Angeles Lakers fan, would expect a star like Dwight Howard to figure out the differences and still produce, apparently it was not so easy in L.A.
Concern: Latest Victim of Being the Most High-Profile Player on the Market
Not since “The Decision” had NBA fans gotten to speculate so heavily as to where one player would sign. Many thought that LeBron would head to the biggest market, then represented by the New York Knicks, and he upset a great number of people when he didn’t.
Suddenly, “The Decision” looked more like the publicity stunt it was rather than the free-agent decision it was supposed to be.
Howard benefitted from reaching the end of his rookie contract long after James’ decision, and thus, he was able to avoid a similar public-relations gaff this past offseason and in years prior.
Howard, despite this knowledge, managed to damage his previously stellar, Superman-inspired public image while still with Orlando in 2012. This served as the first instance of the center scuffling with a coach, as reports, such as that by ESPN.com writer Ian O'Connor in April of 2012, came out in the second half of the 2011-12 season that Howard wanted then-head coach Stan Van Gundy fired.
Van Gundy was a popular figure in the media one because his brother Jeff appeared on television as an NBA analyst and because he appeared to be a solid-to-above-average coach who gave likable press conferences and speeches.
The Magic made do with limited talent outside of Howard during his tenure, and thus, Dwight’s pinning the team’s issues on Van Gundy did not look admirable in the eyes of most NBA fans.
A saga developed from the point Howard’s comments on Van Gundy were released over the bidding war that would ensue over the center. The Magic front office was set to spend days reviewing every trade offer from nearly every team trying to contend in the playoffs that season and beyond.
So when Howard was officially sent to Los Angeles on August 10, 2012, it marked the end of a tremendously obnoxious storyline that all of America had so desperately longed to be through with.
But it didn’t end. The Lakers got off to a 15-21 start, their worst since 1993-94, and all of a sudden, stories of Dwight Howard’s effectiveness began to pop up.
Who is to blame for this? Kobe Bryant? The media?
That Howard returned as a media focal point so soon after spending almost four months as the subject of constant trade theories led to an over-saturated storyline.
The Lakers became a season-long story of failed expectations that were centered around Howard, and come free agency following the season, Howard brought a year’s worth of baggage to a new city.
To a lesser degree than Brett Favre’s retirement and close to that of “The Decision,” the Dwight saga is heavy enough that if even the smallest things go wrong, such as a 1-4 start like Los Angeles got off to a season ago, questions will arise and doubters of Dwight will come to the surface.
Hope: Is It Really Howard’s Out-of-This-World Talent?
But who is really to blame for the disaster of the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers?
Is it Kobe, Howard or Howard’s out-of-this-world athleticism?
I believe it is the final of those three, due to a simple chicken-or-the-egg debate.
If Howard was not the most physically imposing and generally gifted threat in the NBA, his griping with coaches would mean very little.
Consider how often quality players withdraw like frost. Monte Ellis as a Warrior, Andray Blatche as a Wizard and even past stars such as Allen Iverson griped about how their head coaches were performing.
These incidents made headlines, but did they lead to nationwide disgust?
No, they did not, because these players are not in the same stratosphere as Howard. Only a handful of current players are, and each one of them star on Team USA when the summer Olympics roll around every four years.
Is it America’s tendency to favor the underdog that creates these bitter feelings? Or is watching a player recognize his true value so excruciating for fans that any small display of selfishness is unforgivable?
The answers to these questions I do not know, but ultimately, Howard’s experiences with testing the open market should make him regret leaving Orlando so hastily and should encourage him to not be concerned with what people say about him as a person.