Jul 5, 2013, 7:30 PM EDT
Dwight Howard can be a goofball. He savors having fun, joking around in the locker room, being a bit of a clown prince.
That can play poorly if you’re not winning and not always giving maximum effort on the court. That image has haunted Dwight Howard for a while now, especially after the awkwardly-handled exit from Orlando then a down year in Los Angeles.
One thing in sports quickly fixes reputations — winning.
If that was the priority, if this was purely a basketball decision, then Dwight Howard made the right call in choosing the Houston Rockets.
The Lakers, even with everyone back, were not contenders with an older Steve Nash and a hobbled Kobe Bryant. Yes, the Lakers have cap space going forward — the same pitch the Mavericks made — but the Rockets had the pieces to win in place now with Howard added. There was no risk about the future.
This Rockets team was good last season, winning 45 games, but was held back by a pedestrian defense. Dwight Howard patrolling the paint, blocking shots and grabbing rebounds can change everything on that end (if he is healthy and back to his old form). With him the Rockets become the top-10 defense they need to be contenders.
On offense, the Rockets could have the best pick-and-roll in basketball.
Despite all the talk about Howard’s post play — which is improved but still about athleticism and power not polished moves — what really sets him apart as a big man is his mobility.
Look at it this way: Howard shot 44 percent in the post last season, 49 percent the season before and 50.6 percent the season before that. When healthy he gets points on the block (and working with Kevin McHale, the Rockets coach and Celtics legend who had some of the best footwork of any big man ever should help that).
But as the roll man getting the ball back he shot 78 percent last season, 74 percent two seasons ago and 81.7 percent the season before that. Howard sets a huge pick and is so quick it is hard for the defense to react, when he gets the ball back he has room to attack and finish. Combine that with the aggressive play of Harden and Lin and you have a crazy weapon.
Let’s see how the Rockets round out their roster before we predict they can knock off the Thunder next year in the playoffs. (I, for one, don’t love the pairing of Howard and Josh Smith, I think it gives Smith the excuse to take too many ill-advised jump shots.)
A whole lot of Lakers fans seemed happy to let Howard go, but the Howard they see next season — healthy and happy — will look like a totally different player. Howard is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, he uses that mobility to shut down pick-and-rolls (he can show out and recover better than any big in the league) and he comes from the weak side with authority to block shots.
For several years Rockets fans were wondering what GM Daryl Morey was doing, stockpiling assets and trying to find short-term contracts. This is what he was trying to do — have the pieces to make a Harden trade and the cap space to attract Howard to go with him.
He was putting together what should be one of the best one-two punches in the NBA. He was putting together a contender.
Which is why Howard chose them. For basketball reasons. To win.
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