Is Dwight Howard Ready to Put the Houston Rockets on His Back?

Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard hasn’t shied away from putting a target on his back, but for the Rockets to have any substantial success in the 2014-15 season, he’ll have to put the team on his back a well.

Although there were serious questions leading into last year about whether Howard would ever be the same physically or if he was in the midst of a steep decline, a lot of those were put to bed.

Howard recovered nicely from back surgery, and he used the 2013-14 season to slowly climb back to be the player we grew accustomed to seeing during his time with the Orlando Magic.

Although the Rockets ultimately fell in the first round to a Portland Trail Blazers squad, Howard finished the season with an exclamation mark. Over the course of the six-game series, Howard averaged a whopping 26 points, 13.7 boards, 2.8 blocks and a career-high playoff PER of 27.2.

Even though that performance was overshadowed by those of Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge, Howard’s effort quieted most doubters and established that he was back. Maybe he wasn’t at prime form defensively, but offensively he was as good as ever.

Perhaps some of that confidence gained during the postseason bled over into the offseason.

After the Rockets whiffed on Chris Bosh and lost Omer Asik, Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons in the process, Howard didn’t seem to be bothered much. Here’s what he told the Associated Press, via ESPN, following the departure of Parsons:

‘It won’t affect us at all,’ Howard said Friday of Parsons signing a three-year, $45-million deal with the Dallas Mavericks. …

‘We have myself and James,’ Howard said. ‘We have the best center and the best two guard in the game on the same team. It’s on us.’

While Howard is misguided in his original comment, he’s not far off the mark in his follow up. The onus is on James Harden and himself to carry the roster, as they’re the two highest-paid players and two of the league’s biggest stars.

Although their teammates may not love it, at least Howard and Harden are on the same page there.

Here’s what Harden told Joaquin Henson of the Philippine Star:

‘Dwight (Howard) and I are the cornerstones of the Rockets,’ said Harden. ‘The rest of the guys are role players or pieces that complete our team. We’ve lost some pieces and added some pieces. I think we’ll be fine next season.’

Harden and Howard both should have chosen their words more carefully, but it’s clear that they both know what’s ahead of them. 

From Howard’s perspective, you can understand why he feels like losing Parsons might not be too great of a loss. Even though time has passed and a lot has changed (particularly the conference in which Howard plays), in his own mind, he probably remembers carrying an Orlando Magic team to the NBA Finals as the lone star.

With that in mind, the prospect of carrying more responsibility might actually be appealing for him. Fewer stars and more role players around him equals more touches, right? It makes sense that Howard’s experiences with Orlando, a team built around him, and the Los Angeles Lakers, a team with too many cooks in the kitchen, would paint his views.

There’s some legitimacy to that. There will be no diffusion of responsibility in Houston next year. The Rockets will go as far as Howard and Harden can carry the team.

At least on that front, Howard’s dominance last year in the postseason is a great sign. While no one expects him to retain that form for a full season, it’s good to know he has that level of play ready in reserve.

The question is whether or not others can step up when Howard inevitably faces double-teams, and if he can get the help defensively that he needs. 

The addition of Trevor Ariza should help in both areas, but the depth of the roster was hurt this offseason. Howard lacks a legitimate backup, and it’s questionable how much Terrence Jones can help him protect the rim as a full-time starting 4. There are holes to be filled.

Here’s Brett Pollakoff at Pro Basketball Talk with his take:

Howard continues to take an unrealistic view about just how much he and Harden can do for the rest of the roster.

A better approach would have been the one taken by Rockets head coach Kevin McHale, who knows the team got worse this offseason, at least on paper. Displaying false bravado in essentially saying, ‘Nah, we’re good’ when losing a player who contributed as much as Parsons without getting anyone to replace him is not only ridiculous, but shows the level of delusion Howard has when it comes to the game of basketball.

As for the Rockets, fans care about winning and getting out of the first round of the playoffs more than they do about acquiring assets like “cap room” and “trade exceptions.” Houston has its two superstars, right Dwight? If that’s enough, then let’s see the team actually win some games in the postseason.

Houston indeed has its two superstars, but it might be foolish to assume it has been maximized up to this point. Howard and Harden have still only played one full season together, and we saw most recently with the Miami Heat that it can take some time and experimentation before a fit can really click.

Both Howard and Harden can easily be better this upcoming year than they were in their first season together, and here’s Bleacher Report’s John Wilmes with a reason why:

Nevertheless, the Rockets still would have been better off with more Harden-Howard action. As good as Howard can be on the block, their offense will breathe more easily if the Rockets can directly engage their two best players in tandem.

Expect to see a hefty dose of this action as they look to make up for the loss of Parsons and also Jeremy Lin, now with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Whether it’s fair or not, there’s an awful lot of pressure mounted on the shoulders of the big names in Houston.

Harden has to elevate the play of the role players he acknowledged he’s surrounded by. Head coach Kevin McHale has to maximize the talent on the floor. Daryl Morey could stand to make a big acquisition at some point.

Ultimately, though, the fate of the Rockets probably boils down to how great Howard can be. He’s one of the few players in the league that can truly dominate on both ends of the floor, and after Houston’s offseason, it’s clear he’ll be depended on to do just that. 

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Now Is the Time for Dwight Howard to Cement Legacy

Back in 2011, Dwight Howard told Esquire‘s Scott Raab that he’d always wanted “To be an icon. To be somebody.”

At the moment, the well-traveled big man certainly qualifies as a “somebody.” 

But his status as a legitimate icon is pending.

Much will depend on what the Houston Rockets accomplish over the coming seasons, and Howard’s contributions will be essential to any best-case scenario—all the more essential with the rotation losing Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik in a summer than didn’t exactly go as planned.

Howard has exuded ample confidence in the wake of Parsons’ departure for the Dallas Mavericks.

It won’t affect us at all,” Howard said, according to the AP’s Jonathan Landrum Jr. “We have myself and James [Harden]. We have the best center and the best two guard in the game on the same team. It’s on us.”

Harden sounded a similar tune, according to The Houston Chronicle‘s Jonathan Feigen, saying, “Dwight and I are the cornerstones of the Rockets. The rest of the guys are role players or pieces that complete our team. We’ve lost some pieces and added some pieces. I think we’ll be fine next season.”

Cornerstone? Best center in the game?

If there wasn’t already significant pressure on Howard to live up the hype, there certainly is now.

Howard has never been short on confidence, but his results have been mixed. Now he’s facing renewed expectations, especially with his Rockets seemingly on the brink of title contention.

The 28-year-old’s optimism is admirable, but it should also be measured. CBSSports.com’s James Herbert offers a level-headed assessment:

Speaking from his father’s basketball camp, Howard went on to praise newcomer Trevor Ariza, calling him a ‘soldier.’ That’s fine, and there’s no reason he shouldn’t be confident about Houston’s chances. It’s just that this is a bit much. Parsons is very, very good. Losing him, a 6-foot-9 forward who can shoot, create and finish, will obviously affect the Rockets. So will the other cap-clearing moves that didn’t bring back any assets. It’s going to be tough to win as many games as last year.

And all the tougher unless Howard asserts himself in ways he hasn’t since his eight-year tenure with the Orlando Magic

Though the eight-time All-Star’s efficiency has remained on par with his finest seasons in Orlando, his production and playing time have diminished during his last two campaigns with the Los Angeles Lakers and Rockets.

Howard averaged a career-high 22.9 points in 2010-11, as he remained the focal point of Orlando’s offense and defense alike. He also attempted 13.4 field goals per game that year, a figure that plummeted to 10.7 shots per game in 2012-13 with the Lakers.

Despite a slight uptick in touches last season, Howard remained a fundamentally complementary piece on the offensive end and tallied 18.3 points per game.

Without Parsons around, that may have to change.

Put simply, the Rockets need Howard to be larger than life. They need him to be a leader on and off the floor, a dominant presence on both the offensive and defensive ends.

Houston made strides last season, but it also showed signs of vulnerability in its first-round, six-game defeat at the hands of the Portland Trail Blazers. If this team can’t best another one of the Western Conference’s up-and-comers, what chance does it have against more established contenders like the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder?

The answer lies with Howard. The Rockets are only going as far as he takes them.

Unfortunately, that could be a problem.

During the 2013 playoffs—before Howard left the Lakers for Houston—Grantland’s Bill Simmons ripped into what can only be described as a stalled offensive game:

Did he fail out of Hakeem’s summer camp and we never got the memo? Every Dwight jump hook looks like he’s hurling a rock through a window. His footwork gives you that same ‘I’m just trying to get through this sequence alive’ feeling you get when you’re watching D-list celebs on Dancing With the Stars. He can’t make even a 10-foot jumper, and his free throw shooting is more ghastly than ever (49 percent). He’s a lousy passer from the low post who has never averaged even TWO assists per game. And he rarely out-hustles other bigs down the floor for layups or dunks anymore, something Tim Duncan gleefully exposed during the humiliating Spurs beatdown.

A year later, little has changed.

Simmons went on to suggest that the Howard we see is the Howard we’d get from here on out, his logic being that players rarely undergo radical transformations this late into their careers. Though there are plenty of reasons to doubt Howard’s potential to redefine himself as a more versatile scorer, there are few alternatives currently at Houston’s disposal.

Unless general manager Daryl Morey can trade some of the organization’s assets for another high-impact player, Houston’s improvement will have to come from within.

Some of that growth could come from young role players like Terrence Jones or Patrick Beverley, but Howard’s the one with All-Star pedigree. He remains a physical specimen capable of imposing his will in the paint, and he’s Houston’s most accomplished pick-and-roll weapon.

And yet, there’s little doubt Howard could be better.

Early into Howard’s first season with the Rockets, mentor Hakeem Olajuwon broke down what he saw, per NBA.com’s Fran Blinebury: “When I watch him, what I see are opportunities that he is missing. When he gets the ball, he seems to be taking his time to decide what move to make, where he should go.”

Olajuwon added, “There should not be a delay for Dwight. He must be able to make a faster recognition of the situations and react immediately with a go-to move. You must move right away before the defense has a chance to set up.”

So perhaps Howard could be more decisive. Perhaps he’ll have a mandate to do so without guys like Parsons and Lin around to support the offense.

It goes without saying anything resembling a mid-range game would do wonders for Houston’s attack. That might be asking for too much, but the worst thing Howard could do at this stage is settle.

This isn’t a problem Olajuwon can solve on his own. Nor will head coach Kevin McHale suddenly discover a magical anecdote to all that ails Howard. Whether his impediments are mechanical or psychological in nature, the commitment to evolve will have to come from Howard himself.

And it can’t come a moment too soon.

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Do Dwight Howard and James Harden ‘Eat Separately’ from Rockets Teammates?

Dwight Howard and James Harden‘s leadership skills just continue to come under fire. 

UPDATE on Friday, August 8 at 5:50 p.m. ET by Adam Fromal

Sometimes, a lot can be lost in translation. 

According to a Reddit translation of Donatas Motiejunas’ original interview, D-Mo’s words, as provided below, have been taken out of context (h/t Deadspin’s Barry Petchesky).

As I don’t know Lithuanian, I can’t confirm the exact validity of said translation, but this appears to be much kinder to the notable Houston Rockets stars: 

When communicating with Howard and Harden, what do you talk about? A: Basically I say just “Hello” and “Goodbye” to them. Q: They don’t invite you to barbecue or something? A: No, they eat different food than me. Q: What? Do you mean they eat oysters? A: No… being European, I am more likely to eat oyster than them. They eat fast food.

It’s scary enough that the possibly mistranslated takeaways you can find in the original text are actually believable claims. That alone doesn’t speak too kindly to Houston’s chemistry after a disappointing offseason. 

However, D-Mo is not adding fuel to the fire. In fact, he even calls Dwight Howard “a fun guy to be around in general,” according to that same translation. 

–End of Update–

 

ORIGINAL TEXT

Typically, you’d expect the two stars on a team to involve the rest of the roster. You’d want them to take the young players—and the experienced veterans who are fulfilling specific roles—under their wings and help them grow, both as players and as people.

But such isn’t the case for the Houston Rockets. As CBS Sports’ Matt Hammond rightfully explains, “It’s worth noting, this is just one player’s opinion, from just one player’s vantage point.” 

However, what Donatas Motiejunas has to say isn’t exactly a positive in a summer filled with foot-in-mouth statements by the bearded shooting guard and his superstar teammate: 

Unfortunately, this is only the latest blow to the dynamic duo’s credibility as leaders. Some context is necessary, as D-Mo was a trade candidate earlier this season and isn’t guaranteed an uptick in playing time going forward, but the words are still right in line with everything else we’ve heard this summer. 

Earlier this offseason, Grantland’s Zach Lowe had a decidedly negative take on the culture in Houston. Chris Bosh, he speculated, might have turned down the contract Houston offered him not only because he wanted to remain with the Miami Heat, but also because Harden and Howard would’ve been his teammates: 

He was intrigued by Houston, but he’s 30, he’s super-smart, and he just spent four years playing with two like-minded stars on an older roster for an organization that takes basketball craft seriously. The Rockets do, too, but there is an undercurrent around the league that Harden and Howard don’t represent the most appealing duo of teammates for any star who has lived within ultraserious professionalism.

Howard was great last year, but the jokiness and free-agent dithering hurt his image. The viral videos of Harden’s defense damaged his reputation. It wouldn’t shock me if Bosh at least considered some of that in his decision.

In addition to that, we have the whole Chandler Parsons saga

“It won’t affect us at all,” D12 explained to The Associated Press, via ESPN.com, after his former teammate left for the Dallas Mavericks. ”We have myself and James. We have the best center and the best two guard in the game on the same team. It’s on us.”

Surely Harden had something more sensible to say, right? 

Well, not exactly. 

Dwight and I are the cornerstones of the Rockets,” Harden told  of The Philippine Star, refusing to acknowledge the significance of losing Parsons, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik. “The rest of the guys are role players or pieces that complete our team. We’ve lost some pieces and added some pieces. I think we’ll be fine next season.”

Actions speak louder and words, and now both point toward the two stars feeling as though they’re the key pieces in Houston. Not only has Harden verbally referred to the rest of the roster as less important than himself and Howard, but he’s acting like it by separating himself and his star teammate from everyone else. 

As anyone who’s ever taken part in communal mealtime knows, eating food is a great time to bond. Conversations abound, secrets are shared, jokes are had and it’s easy to get to know one another. 

It’s significantly harder when, as Motiejunas puts it, the two key players just say hi and bye. 

The Rockets are primed to enjoy a competitive season, even if they’ve taken a slight step backward in the brutally difficult Western Conference. However, it’s not exactly a secret that chemistry matters in the NBA

If that chemistry blows up, the step won’t be slight. 

Whether Houston is trying to compete this season or attempting to lure in more key pieces during future free-agency periods, a culture change may be needed. At the very least, a mentality change must happen for two big-name players. 

 

What are your expectations for the Rockets in 2014-15? Let me know on Twitter and Facebook. 

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Dwight Howard Q&A: Center, Rockets ‘on the same page’

Rockets big man says going to Houston was the best decision for him

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NASA let Dwight Howard pilot a real land rover

The Rockets star got to play in a real spaceship.

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Dwight Howard’s girlfriend joins Houston Sparks semi-pro hoops team

Dwight Howard isn’t the only one in his family hooping for a Houston team. Howard’s girlfriend – and babymama’s number 4 or 6 depending on which rumor you are rolling with – has joined the “Houston Sparks” semi-pro franchise.

Vest played college ball at Chico state. I guess she’s bored playing with her rats and being a stay at home mom… I’m not joking, Christine has a rodent menagerie. Good luck with the Houston Sparks. Maybe the WNBA is next.

 

photos via @christineybobo

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Dwight Howard Injury: Updates on Rockets Center’s Ankle and Return

Losers of three in a row, the Houston Rockets will have to stop their recent skid without Dwight Howard manning the interior.    

According to the team’s radio play-by-play announcer Craig Ackerman, Howard will sit out Monday night’s game against the Utah Jazz with a mild left ankle strain:

A “day-to-day” tag can mean a lot of different things, but it’s likely that this is just a way to dole out some rest for Howard, who has yet to miss any of Houston’s first 66 games this season.

He looked fine while dropping 21 and 14 against the Miami Heat on Sunday, and as the Houston Chronicle‘s Nick Mathews noted, the Rockets should fare well against the West’s bottom-dwellers even without their productive center:

Still, while this probably isn’t anything serious, it’s something to pay attention to. 

On the season, Howard is averaging 18.6 points, 12.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per contest. As the fourth-place Rockets continue to fight for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, they will need their dominant big man healthy in the middle. 

Of course, that’s not to say they don’t have impressive frontcourt depth. In Howard’s absence, defensive stalwart Omer Asik will likely enter the starting lineup, while Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas will see increases in their minutes as well. 

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Dwyane Wade Takes Flight After Being Touched on the Back by Dwight Howard

Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade‘s flopping habit is well known around the league, and it was on display again versus the Houston Rockets on Sunday.

With just a touch on the back from Dwight Howard, Wade took flight like he was Superman. Wade’s tactic worked, as referees whistled Howard for a foul on the play.

[B/R's Andrew Bailey]

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Dwight Howard ruins Greg Oden’s big day

Howard catches Oden’s shot in midair.

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Dwight Howard expertly dishes pass to Omer Asik … who was not in the game (video)

There’s one thing for an NBA player to be unselfish with the ball, to be willing to get his teammates involved in the game as an offensive set is run. The key to it, though, is that when passing to said teammate, make sure he’s actually, you know, in the game. Dwight Howard had himself […]The post Dwight Howard expertly dishes pass to Omer Asik … who was not in the game (video) appeared first on Sportress of Blogitude.

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