The 2013 NBA offseason is going to be fueled with storylines from start to finish, but few will be more intriguing than what happens between Dwight Howard, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Houston Rockets.
In 2012, Houston made it clear that Howard was on its radar. It compiled draft picks galore in an attempt to swing a deal with the Orlando Magic, but with Howard in the driver’s seat, the team couldn’t persuade the center to jump on board.
Now, one year later, the tides appear to be turning in the Rockets’ favor, and there are two main reasons why.
Money and a championship-caliber roster.
When Howard first arrived in L.A., he described the situation as a “dream come true” (via ESPN’s Mike Mazzeo). Almost six months later to the day, Howard declared the season a “nightmare” following a disappointing sweep against the San Antonio Spurs.
Where the Lakers can go from here is questionable. Kobe Bryant’s health and longevity remain a variable, and if Howard wants to win right away, L.A. is looking like a far cry from his best option.
The Lakers are an organization in flux. Houston could give Howard a place to shine right out of the gate.
If the 2012-13 Lakers taught us anything, it’s that we should never assume. The Association’s newest superteam was primed and ready to compete for a title, but we quickly learned that expectations don’t always translate to success.
Signing with Houston won’t make Howard an automatic champion; however, it will make the team a favorite out West, as it is clearly moving in a different direction than Los Angeles.
James Harden is better than anyone on Howard’s current roster—with the exception of a healthy Bryant, of course. Chandler Parsons is also a budding star, and Jeremy Lin, despite his inconsistencies, is someone who could complement the pick-and-roll game that Howard already has.
Howard would also have another shot-blocking big man in Omer Asik—assuming the Rockets hang on to their center—which would take the pressure off of him to be the only player protecting the rim.
Aside from the players on the floor, Mike D’Antoni’s coaching style proved troublesome for Howard. It’s true that health was a concern all season, but with D’Antoni’s system calling for an up-tempo pace from an aging roster, Howard was never able to take full advantage.
If you watched the Rockets play in 2012-13, you know that they were hardly a team willing to slow it down. They were the No. 1 team in the NBA when it came to pace (per ESPN), but they do have a coach who is more likely to be sensitive to the needs of a center than D’Antoni.
We’d also be remiss not to consider the fact that Chris Paul has been rumored to go to the Rockets, as reported by Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. According to ESPN’s Chris Broussard, Howard and Paul have discussed the possibility of playing together in 2013-14, and combining forces in Houston appears to be a legitimate possibility.
The big man would love to play with arguably the best point guard in the game, but even without Paul on his side, things would still be looking up in the Lone Star State.
No matter how much we want to believe that the NBA is simply a game, there’s a business side that we can’t ignore. Players and owners alike are striving to bring in every dollar possible, and when it comes down to it, it’s not complicated—more is better than less.
On the surface, the Lakers can offer Howard more money than anybody else. They own his Bird rights, and they can sign him to a deal that weighs in at $118 million over five years—no other team can sign him beyond four years and $88 million.
The Lakers can give Howard the most money outright, but there’s a few things to remember.
First and foremost, the state of Texas has no state income tax. Living in Los Angeles puts Howard in a situation where he is not only forced to pay the millionaire tax, but he succumbs to the inflated cost of living in a major market.
Howard’s contract is going to be worth more if he signs in L.A., but if he signs with the Rockets, he’ll actually make $1,094,342.38 more during his first four years, per Bill Ingram of Hoops World.
The other thing to consider, as abstract as it may sound at first, is that the Rockets have become fan favorites of the league’s Asian market. Since the days of Yao Ming—and now continuing with Jeremy Lin—Houston has capitalized on the fandom.
What does this have to do with Howard? The 27-year-old is one of Adidas’ most prominent clients, and according to the Wall Street Journal’s Laurie Burkitt, the company is “catching up with Nike” as China’s No. 1 sportswear company.
In L.A., Howard has a chance to build upon the legacy of great big men. In Houston, he has a chance to completely expand his own brand both domestically and internationally.
If you’re asking yourself which influence holds more weight for Howard, money or championship desires, don’t rack your brain too hard. Nobody except the man himself knows the answer, and if we’ve learned anything throughout the years, it’s that not even he likely knows what’s going to come next.
What we can say for certain is that Howard and the Lakers were not a good mix in their first year together. What began as a dream ended as a nightmare, and it’s time for Howard to step up and make a tough decision.
Houston has a lot to offer in the sense of on-the-court opportunities, but the off-the-court gains are there as well. Making money and winning games are the two most sought-after traits for NBA players, and luckily for the Rockets, they appear to have the advantage over the Lakers in 2013.