After years of rumors, a trade from the Orlando Magic to the Los Angeles Lakers and a supremely productive, albeit somehow lackluster 2012-13 campaign, Howard has finally decided on his future. While the excitement is brewing, there's one question we simply cannot help but ask:
What's next for the new-look Rockets after landing D12?
Howard's signing is undeniably the biggest-impact acquisition of the summer. Not only is Dwight a seven-time All-Star, five time All-NBA first team center and three-time Defensive Player of the Year, but he is still currently in his prime at age 27.
That's exactly why the top writers in the world jumped at the opportunity to break this news, which was later confirmed by a statement from Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak (per Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski):
Chances are, Houston is not done altering its roster in what has already been a hectic offseason. Howard immediately improves the Rockets' odds of competing for a title, but as we all saw last season, his addition alone does not guarantee postseason success.
According to Wojnarowski, GM Daryl Morey is not done making moves just yet:
Clearly, Houston's days of wheeling and dealing are far from over.
Omer Asik's Future
In the span of one season, Rockets big man Omer Asik transformed himself into one of the most productive centers in the NBA. The big man finished out his first year in Houston with averages of 10.1 points, 11.7 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game, earning praise for his work ethic and nonstop motor.
Unfortunately for Houston, Asik has no interest playing behind or alongside D12.
Apologies to those who want the Rockets to hold on to Asik—due to salary constraints and positional overlap, the only option is to trade him.
So, who could be interested?
Well, that escalated quickly.
This truly isn't an issue for Houston, as Howard is a better player than Asik in every aspect of the game. While Howard's work ethic may have been questioned in a supposed down year, he topped Asik by 7.0 points, 0.7 rebounds and 1.3 blocks.
As for what he can do when healthy and motivated, multiple single-season titles in both the rebounding and shot-blocking departments speak for themselves.
Moving Asik should be a top priority for the Rockets, as his hands of stone made it difficult for the Rockets to run the pick-and-roll. With Howard lacking any form of a mid-range game and Asik sharing that same defect, playing these two big men together would be disastrous in terms of floor spacing.
The question is, who would replace Asik?
Solving Defensive Woes
If the Rockets think that signing Dwight will transform their 28th-ranked scoring defense into one of a top-10 nature, they're off their rocker. They play an up-tempo style, have liabilities at multiple positions and lack an elite perimeter defender.
Even so, D12 is bound to help them improve—and that could be enough with their scoring offense ranking second overall in the 2012-13 season.
Howard is arguably the best help-side defender in the league, pairing elite lateral quickness with explosive leaping ability and impeccable timing as a shot-blocker.
Below is a chart illustrating just how much more consistent Howard was than Rockets center Omer Asik and Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol in some of the most important defensive categories.
That is elite.
Assuming the Rockets opt to slow it down and allow their defense to enter their half-court sets, Howard can restore his reputation as the game's most imposing defender. From his shot-blocking to his low-post brilliance, there isn't much that D12 can't do.
Of course, the real question on everyone's mind though considering his time with the Lakers is how exactly he will fit into the team's offense.
Impact on Offense
The Rockets run an up-tempo attack that, when the game slows down, relies heavily upon the pick-and-roll. Fortunately for Houston, it's just acquired the NBA's premier pick-and-roll dive man in Dwight Howard.
Get Howard his touches and he will produce.
James Harden is one of the NBA's elite scorers, using a paralyzing stutter-step to get to the basket and draw contact, while stretching out defenses with his jump shooting. The key to his scoring, however, is the fact that Harden keeps the opposition on its toes with his smooth facilitating.
It certainly doesn't hurt that Harden ranked No. 1 and Howard No. 2 in free-throw attempts per game, combining for 19.7 per contest—equal to or better than four NBA franchises.
Howard isn't an elite low-post scoring presence, but he's effective enough to keep a defense honest. This should enable players such as Harden and Chandler Parsons to space the floor with the three-ball, thus creating a significantly better half-court attack than Houston led in 2012-13.
A scary thought considering it averaged 106.0 points per game.
What truly offers reason for intrigue is the oversight of head coach Kevin McHale, who is a Hall of Fame post-up legend. Not only can he and Rockets legend Hakeem Olajuwon help Howard develop his back-to-the-basket arsenal, but McHale will inevitably look to run his offense through D12.
So, what's next for Houston? The opportunity for greatness.
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