The team that fruitlessly tried to lure Dwight Howard just a year ago now has a legitimate shot at the former Magic and current Laker.
Before discussing the reasons Howard should sign with Houston as opposed to the Lakers or some other franchise, it has to be pointed out the Rockets have amazing upside.
First off, they are the youngest team in the league. Although they stumbled down the stretch in the regular season and got the eight seed, the room for improvement is exponential.
The team is about sharing the ball. Harden takes a Kobe-esque approach to the offensive end, but he knows what it's like to defer from his days in Oklahoma City. While Harden would not have to be overly passive, the Harden-Howard dynamic would be fun to watch.
Houston is in a position of extreme financial bliss. Assuming they do not pick up the option of Francisco Garcia for next season (not a given after his defensive performance on Durant), the Rockets will come in a shade under $40 million for the 2013-2014 season. Harden counts roughly $13.7 million (courtesy of Hoops Hype), Asik and Jeremy Lin earn the exact same $5.2 million and Thomas Robinson will be earning $3.5 million.
Some of the tough calls will be the team options for veterans Carlos Delfino ($3 million) and Aaron Brooks ($2.5 million). Delfino is the more likely of the two that returns. The biggest bargain in the league next season will be Chandler Parsons, who will earn a paltry $926,500 in the second year of his rookie contract.
If we can assume a salary cap for 2013-2014 in the $58-60 million range, the Rockets will have about $20 million for free agency and draft picks. Moreover, because Lin and Asik both accepted "poison pill" contracts, this is the offseason for the Rockets to make some key acquisitions. Both players will earn almost $15 million in 2014-2015.
Kevin McHale has proven himself a calm, capable coach this season and surely can help any big man develop in Houston.
So, why should Dwight Howard sign with Houston?
1. It's not the mega market that L.A. is.
Perhaps Howard experienced the bright lights of media scrutiny, merciless fans, and the black hole that is Kobe Bryant, and realizes he now wants something a bit different. Houston is not a major market upgrade over Orlando, but it's probably more comfortable than L.A.
Howard will still have the spotlight in Houston, but won't have the daily pressures that come with playing in L.A.
2. Houston has a TON of young talent.
Jeremy Lin is not the superstar many thought he might be after his magical run with the Knicks, but he is a decent NBA player. With Harden, Parsons and potentially Dwight around him, Lin just has to run the team and keep his turnovers down.
Omar Asik is excellent on the boards and won't mind one bit if Dwight gets all the inside touches. Parsons, Harden, and Delfino can all knock down the outside shot that would be open more readily with a big man like Howard in the middle. We also can't forget about Thomas Robinson, the former top-5 pick from Kansas who has yet to really play for Houston.
If Howard were to sign, Houston can trot out Lin at the point, Harden at off guard, Parsons at the three, Robinson/Asik at the four and Howard at the five. Delfino, Beverly and (if his personal situation ever adapts to NBA travel) Royce White provide some depth on the bench, and Houston has a robust eight man rotation.
And of course, James Harden.
3. The Rockets are on the rise.
Just think about the ceiling for Houston with a healthy Dwight Howard. It would match up with OKC so much better. The Rockets could easily challenge an aging Spurs team.
In fact, they would be set up to compete for Western Conference titles for the next 10 years. In a way, they would be built like Memphis, except Howard is younger and better than Zach Randolph when he is 100 percent healthy.
4. Balanced scoring and a commitment to the team concept.
If you watched the Rockets in the playoffs, Harden was clearly "the" guy. But it was different from the way Westbrook or Kobe try to be "the" guys.
It was more like the Miami Heat when LeBron, Wade and Bosh are sharing the ball. No one seemed to mind who took the key shot. One night it was Parsons, the next it was Lin. Then Harden.
These Rockets are a unique group that will be fun to watch for years to come. Throw in Howard. He may have his off-nights offensively, but his teammates can easily pick up the slack.
5. This is easily the best long-term solution.
If Dwight re-ups with the Lakers, who knows how that will play out. They are way over the cap, have an aging team getting older by the second, with a superstar coming off a devastating injury. After Kobe, Nash, Metta World Peace and Gasol are done, what's left? Darius Morris?
Another option will be Dallas, but the Mavericks seem to have nothing except an aging, oft-injured Dirk Nowitzki. At 34, Dirk's days are numbered.
So if Dwight is able to sort out any sentimental attachment to the Lakers, get past any wild notions of playing for his hometown Atlanta Hawks, he should quickly realize Houston is the place to go.
He doesn't "owe" the Lakers anything—they parted with Andrew Bynum, who didn't even play a game this season. While no one was really happy with his antics surrounding the departure from the Orlando Magic, Howard has a chance to make a career-saving decision and turn the Rockets into a perennial Western Conference power again.