As I exited the Toyota Center last night in downtown Houston after watching the Spurs and Rockets square off in an exciting Christmas day matchup, I thought about the Rockets team that just beat the 25-5 Spurs. The Rockets’ main weapons in the game were an unusual bunch – there was James Harden, of course, but then Terrence Jones and Jason Terry. Those three combined for 46 of the Rockets’ 88 points. While this was an oddly defensive matchup, this trio still struck me. On a team with so many weapons as the Rockets – players like Trevor Ariza, Ty Lawson, and most notably, Dwight Howard, all suit up in Rocket red – why was this bunch was leaned upon so heavily today?
You can look at the stats to see that the Rockets aren’t great at providing complementary scoring to their main star, James Harden. Unsurprisingly, Harden is averaging a hefty 28.8 PPG. But the second leading scorer is Dwight Howard with a sad 12.9 PPG, and Ariza, Marcus Thornton, and Jones follow him with 11, 11, and 10 points a night.
Dwight Howard was arguably the best center in the NBA just 5 seasons ago, averaging over 20 points and nearly 15 boards for a contender Orlando Magic team. Now, after bouncing to LA and now Houston, is barely a second option for a contending team. And him being labelled a second option is generous. He saw nearly zero touches on offense in the post last night and not a single play for him was ran. No wonder he put up just 12 points tonight against a team that didn’t have anyone to truly box out against this giant man. The ‘Superman’ doesn’t get the ball like he did in Orlando, which ran a 4 shooter and Dwight system, similar to what former Magic and current Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy is running in Detroit centered around Andre Drummond.
So is this old age taking a hold of Dwight Howard? Absolutely not. Howard is a young 30 years old and from the look of his ripped physique, he still looks 24. He is still an athletic freak who can swat shots from the free throw line. He still can catch lobs and flush them down over opposing bigs, and he can still run the pick and roll like a pro. So why isn’t he?
The only reason I can make out is a lack of hunger. Dwight just doesn’t have that thirst for glory, for victory, for being the best anymore. No player content with being a second-third option on a struggling contender still has that kind of raw thirst and want. Howard still has all the tools and teammates to be at the top of the game at his position, but he isn’t utilizing them. If he was, he would scare defenses like he used to. But right now, he is mostly a blocker and rebounder – a sad deduction of what was once the best big in the game.
So as rumors spray of disconnection between James Harden and Howard, among questionable trade reports that the Heat would dangle Hassan Whiteside at the trade deadline for Howard, or the Sacramento Kings would talk DeMarcus Cousins for Howard, whether bullshit or not, it is necessary to question – What is Dwight’s worth on the open market? Does anybody actually want him?
I can tell you one thing is for sure. No general manager in his right mind would give up young talent like DeMarcus Cousins or Hassan Whiteside for a 30 year old center who seems like he is trying to look washed up.
So where would Dwight fit?
I can think of just five teams that would possibly be interested in him. Yep, just five. that’s how bad it has gotten.
There are two Eastern Conference playoff [pre]contenders that would like Howard’s services. The Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards both could use an infusion of athleticism and youth to their respective frontcourts. Jonas Valanciunas, the center for the Raptors, is a solid piece, and Dwight would have to slide him to power forward or spend some time there himself to make it work. But even there he would serve primarily a defensive and rebounding role, as Valanciunas, Kyle Lowry, and DeMar DeRozan make up most of the offense for the Raptors. With the Wizards he would be utilized much more so, with John Wall and Bradley Beal finally having an athletic option down low – NeNe and Marcin Gortat don’t exactly explode off the ground like D12. Some Wall to Howard alley oops would be nice to see, yes, but a trade to Washington is unlikely- they don’t have the assets to make a deal for Howard. Toronto does, but giving up young players like Corey Joseph, Terrence Ross, and picks doesn’t sound all that great for a team that finds itself once again in fourth place in the East.
The New York Knicks would be interested, as they are always looking for a big name to bring in. Robin Lopez has disappointed, and a frontline of Carmelo Anthony, rookie Kristaps Porzingis, and Dwight Howard would actually be pretty intriguing. If the Knicks could flip Lopez, Derrick Williams, Jerian Grant and a second rounder for Howard and maybe K.J. McDaniels, they should.
The last Eastern Conference team that might be interested would be the talent starved Brooklyn Nets. This team is going absolutely nowhere and, being the buyers that they usually are, would probably call Daryl Morey about a Howard deal. If Morey could somehow get Brook Lopez from Billy King and the Nets in a deal that sends Howard, Terrence Jones, and a pick to Brooklyn, then he should. Maybe he could snag the trade-rumored Bojan Bogdanovic also.
The sole Western Conference team on this list is….
THE LAKERS! Just kidding.
The Portland Trail Blazers, despite having probably the worst roster in the West, have won a surprising 11 games already and are in position to make a run at the eighth seed. They have a lot of different pieces that do different things, but bringing in a solid center and good personality to mesh the young guns of the Blazers with wouldn’t be a bad idea. Damian Lillard and Howard would be a fun combo, and he could help the likes of Noah Vonleh, Ed Davis, Meyers Leonard, and Mason Plumlee. Howard wouldn’t be thrilled going to a rebuilding team, but he can opt out of his contract at the end of the season.
But all these are strictly hypotheticals. The best option for the Rockets would be to not trade him and get him more involved in the offense. But neither parties, Howard and the rest of team and staff, seem to be interested in doing that. And because of this, the slow and inefficient relationship between Rocket City and D12 will continue to drag on until summer, where Howard can leave forever. But where will he go?
To be continued…