Anybody that calls themselves a fan of the NBA already knows—Dwight Howard is a Rocket...or at least he is in a verbal sense. Yes, the biggest free-agency story of this offseason, and Houston has yet sign him in a technical sense.
Until the free-agency moratorium period is over, teams cannot announce deals until they're in the books. Think of it as celebrating a huge sports bet you made with 10 seconds left on the game clock. Sure, the impending result is inevitable and obvious, but the ticket isn't worth a dime until the clock strikes zero.
The Howard signing is a big deal, but Houston's front office has been playing it smart from the get-go, and it's time to see if their free-agency moves, as of yet, make the grade.
Waiving Carlos Delfino and Aaron Brooks
Signing impact players costs money, lots of money. In order to sign a big name like Dwight, you have to sacrifice some of the little guys first. In this case, the players they did waive were little guys in a literal sense—well, at least by NBA standards.
The aforementioned manlets happen to be 6'6" Carlos Delfino and 6'0" Aaron Brooks. Delfino is big enough to be a tweener-type player as far as playing the swingman role, but Aaron Brooks has been known for being a gunner most of his career. Delfino isn't as trigger happy, but he's more of a sixth-or-seventh-man type, and other than spreading the floor, there isn't anything he does at a masterful level.
Considering their roster features several other players who provide similar skill sets, they were clearly expendable. Especially with the ensuing Dwight Howard saga, it was clear that losing Delfino and Brooks is a worthy move if it means you can have a chance at guy who is capable of elevating your team to the next level—assuming his head is in the game and healthy.
Houston waived both of them on June 30, and the timing ended up being perfect. Considering the move helped free space up for Howard, there's no question it is a savvy, no-brainer move considering the context.
Final Grade: B
Adding Omri Casspi and Reggie Williams
The added effect of the Dwight Howard acquisition is his ability to get people open. While he isn't as adept on the block as an Al Jefferson or Andrew Bynum, he can have a similar impact for his teammates.
It's basic math—there's five guys on the floor, if two double one, someone on the floor is open. Keeping this basic concept in mind, Houston wanted to add more reserve shooters to their lineup by adding Omri Casspi and Reggie Williams—a pair of sharpshooters the former of which can actually play a little bit of point-forward. Acquiring Williams for a minimum two-year deal with a team option, and doing the same with Casspi is a shrewd move on the part of the Rockets.
Shooters in the league are a dime a dozen, and while some are better than others, a lot of times it comes down to who's hot. Some guys have off days, off months and at times, these cold stretches can stretch several seasons. The team option minimizes the risk of being stuck with one or two guys that aren't fitting in properly, or simply aren't knocking down the shots they're expected to hit.
Neither deal is earth shattering by any means, but neither deal is terribly risky either. The Rockets made a proper strategic move while remaining financially flexible come next season should they choose to exercise either option.
Final Grade: C+
Signing Dwight Howard
Okay, okay we get it they got Howard, we already know.
There's no need to bore you with the details, but yeah, Dwight is going to be in a Rockets uniform next season. The question remains, however, is this a good move aside from the big-name acquisition?
Statistically, yes, Dwight Howard's numbers are cute—17 points, 12 boards and around two blocks per game is a solid line, but what are the drawbacks to Howard joining the team?
Well, for one, last season exposed a lot of what's wrong with Howard in a mental sense. His game is, at times, like a supercharged, high-performance sports car with supremely inefficient inner workings and costly maintenance.
The proverbial engine is his motor and energy on the floor—his mental acuity, too. Sometimes he trots back on defense, other times he rotates softly and the countless mental errors he makes are crippling to a team's momentum. Boneheaded defensive lapses, ill-timed fouls and a lack of situational awareness at times was absolutely brutal for the Lakers last season.
When the "car" worked, though? No one could physically match him. Even with his bad back, he could still finish strong. Whenever he played physically lacking big men, his power was too much to handle.
Whether the "car" will work consistently this season, however, is a big question mark. He will have to feel valued; he will have to feel appreciated and encouraged to be himself. Kobe Bryant's stern resolve and apathy was likely too much for Dwight. Houston is a completely different environment with the likes of Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin and James Harden—all of whom are young and energetic.
Plain and simple, they're the type of guys who aren't afraid to let loose and laugh. By no means will they stifle Dwight's desire to have fun and smile—the latter of which he appeared to resist from doing on numerous occasions whenever Kobe was in the vicinity.
While some love to say he could handle the spotlight of Los Angeles, they appear to forget Dwight was playing on a team full of mostly flabby and sick players. Dwight was wise in perceiving that perhaps the golden years for the golden Hollywood franchise are rapidly fading.
Why lose and conform to a rigid and possibly delusional fanbase when you can get a fresh start, win and be able to act how you truly want?
Dwight wasn't just unhappy because he was losing; he was unhappy because he was playing the role of a serious, no-joking-around competitor a la Kobe. It was forced, phony and silly. There's no need to pretend anymore, Dwight is free from the needless pressure he would've otherwise received back in Los Angeles.
Houston wants him to be funny, they want him to smile and feel comfortable. While his past season was by no means impressive for a player with his capability, this new season provides him with a chance to obliterate whatever criticism stands before him.
Houston still needs to mold him into a better interior player for the future. When his athleticism declines—and it will decline—they need to ensure he has more go-to moves on the block.
Overall, you can't knock them for acquiring the guy everyone else with a shot tried to get.
Final Grade: B+