In a quite unexpected development, incumbent Rockets center Omer Asik has actually been a far larger source of off-court drama. The disgruntled Turk’s well-publicized unhappiness with his diminished role has reached such a fervor that he’s now effectively off the team, sitting on the bench with a mysterious thigh injury for all games.
One of this season’s only interpersonal stories involving Dwight, inversely, has been a tame, relatively uncovered one. Howard bought his teammates some real poshy watches this Christmas, an obvious sign of solidarity and good faith.
Can we take this generous package as a symbol of D12’s psycho-emotional growth?
Optimists in Houston are certainly hoping so, as a focused Howard is essential to their championship aspirations. His presence at the rim—on both ends of the floor—is exactly the kind of half-court stronghold they’ll need when the game slows down against disciplined Western Conference foes like the Golden State Warriors, Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs.
Skeptics are merely waiting for the next Superman-sized implosion, but signs so far are that Dwight could actually be providing a quality for his team even more significant than strong play.
He looks nearly the part of a cultural linchpin in the team’s transition into title contention.
When asked about the upcoming matchup against his last team, the Los Angeles Lakers, Howard refused the bait and literally gave a non-verbal response, feigning sleep. He’s tired of the mental proddings of the media and has learned how to deal with them.
Such a mindset is extremely valuable to the Rockets, particularly coming from their most seasoned superstar. The team is loaded with talented younger players like Terrence Jones, Patrick Beverley and Donatas Motiejunas, who will be able to follow Howard’s media-weary lead, regardless of how long it took him to develop it and sharpen their tunnel vision for what happens on the hardwood.
Of course, D12 is a Rocket who could always shift course.
What’s different this time around?
Time will tell, but as his current team approaches their matchup against his old one, and all of the narratives about his rough times in Hollywood return to the media’s surface, it’s clear that another round of P.R. tests is on its way.
If Howard fails them and hands his provokers a new bevy of excoriating headlines, Houston will have a problem.
The impending effort to fully lift off in time for the postseason can suffer no setbacks. This is a young, newly constructed team that still has a lot of work to do—they’ve yet to appropriately gel in the half court on either end—and distractions of the level Dwight is capable of certainly will not speed them toward the launchpad.
Aside from health, Howard’s past propensity for the dramatic just might be the largest x-factor in the Rockets’ bid for a grander sort of legitimacy. If the days of his insufferably self-indulgent soap opera with the limelight are indeed over, basketball purists in Houston have a great deal to look forward to.