The partnership of Dwight Howard and James Harden hasn't delivered the success expected by the Houston Rockets since Howard's 2013 arrival, devolving to the point that both stars once reportedly tried to get the other traded.
According to NBA.com's Fran Blinebury, issues between the two extended beyond the court following a first-round playoff exit to the Portland Trail Blazers in 2013-14. Harden and Howard were angling to get the other player traded days after Damian Lillard's dagger three-pointer sent the Blazers through to the second round. Blinebury described why the two have at times made for a poor match:
For three seasons with Harden and Howard, the Rockets have lacked leadership on the court and are not seen by opponents as a team that works hard. Both want the perks and trappings of being the big dog pulling the wagon, but neither will do the real work. Howard smiles and says everybody should keep positive thoughts. Harden shrugs his head and goes back to seeking his next 40-point game.
If there was any friction between Howard and Harden, it seemed to cease as the Rockets reached the Western Conference Finals last year. However, questions about their relationship have come up again after Houston's 27-28 start. Last week, The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski reported general manager Daryl Morey was looking to deal Howard ahead of Thursday's trade deadline.
On Dec. 15, Chris Sheridan of Sheridan Hoops reported, citing sources, that Howard was "extremely unhappy in Houston playing second fiddle to alpha dog James Harden." The eight-time All-Star denied he was looking to be traded and added that he was working to form a stronger rapport with last year's MVP runner-up, per USA Today Sports' Sam Amick.
"It's been great. The thing we are trying to build on the most is chemistry between me and James," Howard said on Dec. 22, per Jenny Dial Creech of the Houston Chronicle. "We have played together for two years, but the best way to build chemistry is to have those individual workouts together."
Whether their on-court connection has strengthened or not, the Rockets have a minus-0.8 net rating per 100 possessions when Harden and Howard are together in 2015-16, per NBA.com. Compare that to their 10.5 net rating last year.
While the Rockets as a whole have struggled, thus dragging Howard and Harden down as well, those two are supposed to be the leaders and set the tone for the rest of the roster. They haven't exactly done that this season.
Couple that with the trade rumors swirling regarding Howard's future, and it looks as though Morey may be souring on the idea of building around Harden and Howard for the long term.
The former Defensive Player of the Year can opt out of his current deal and enter free agency in the summer, and his departure might benefit all involved.