Remember how much everyone hated LeBron James for “The Decision”? And remember how “The Decision” was a professional, if crass, operation that made millions of dollars for the Boys and Girls Club? Well, Dwight Howard completed his own version of the decision last night when he announced that he was moving to my Houston Rockets.
Teams involved in discussions with Dwight were Houston, the Lakers, the Dallas Mavericks, the Atlanta Hawks and the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors signed Andre Igoudala to a four year deal, effectively removing themselves from the debate and gradually the teams fell, one by one, until it was left to just Houston and LA. Then, AOL Sports broke the news that Dwight was coming to Houston.
Very quickly ESPN’s ever-unreliable Chris Broussard (seriously, follow this guy on twitter and follow @wojyahoonba and tell me that Broussard knows anything) reported that Dwight had changed his mind and was flying to LA to tell them that he was 50:50 on even leaving Los Angeles. As it turned out, Dwight was simply flying to LA to tell them face to face that he wasn’t staying. A reasonably classy move in a horribly classless situation, I’m sure you’ll agree. Broussard, who seems to either regurgitate other peoples work or else just fire out common-sense-based rumours that any one of us could make up ourselves, had jumped the gun.
Another quickly emerging story was that Omer Asik, the Rockets clumsy but effective centre for the past season, would not play with or behind Dwight and wanted out of Houston. Fair enough. Asik is a very capable centre who protects the rim, even if he is equally as useless as Dwight offensively.
Breaking News: Dwight is crappy at free throws. When he came into the league, in 2004, he actually shot 67% from the stripe, a very acceptable figure (he attempted 5 free throws a game that season) that has dropped to the 49% he shot the past two seasons. The drop between 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 was nearly a full ten percent. That’s not good. That’s how you end up in hack-a-Dwight situations.
Dwight also gives teams a career average of 13 rebounds per game and has led the league in five of the past six seasons. He also blocks two shots a game, although the typical Howard block is straight into row B and therefore giving the ball back to the opponent as soon as the shot goes up. Some guys of Howard’s athletic ability have learned to tip shot blocks to themselves – or even catch them. Javale McGee can do it.
Asik is taller than Dwight, a little bit younger than him and is only three seasons into his NBA career. He’s also less athletic but then again hasn’t gone through back surgery. He grabbed 12 rebounds per game last season, a career high. He is slightly less useless from the free throw line – shooting 53% for his career, but the 56% he shot last season was a career high. He doesn’t block shots as well either, only blocking 1 per game over his career. His offensive limitations are evident from his career 5.5 points per game, although he had a career high of 10 last season.
Crucially, Asik is scheduled to make $5m next season and $15m the season after that through his back-loaded contract that Houston GM Daryl Morey used to tempt him away from Chicago a year ago. Howard will make $80m+ over the next four seasons with the Rockets, probably the last effective years of his career unless he learns a post game – and lets face it, if he can’t learn a post game with Kevin McHale as his coach and Hakeem Olajuwon down the road, he never will. Is Howard going to be that much more effective than Asik during this period? He claims he is in Houston to win a title, but the Rockets still have to get past the formidable opposition of the San Antonio Spurs, the LA Clippers, the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Memphis Grizzlies and the Golden State Warriors. Beating any of those teams in a playoff series will be no easy shakes.
To that end, there were rumours this week that Dwight had asked the Rockets about what other players they might be able to put around him. The name Josh Smith came up in discussions. If any name screams “SIGN ME AND NEVER WIN A TITLE” then it is that of Josh Smith. Smith is an athletic freak but one who has never quite developed a niche in the NBA to the extent that he could legitimately be called a superstar. Fortunately Rockets beat reporter Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle (if you guys are really interested in any NBA team you should be following the beat reporters on twitter) tweeted that it looked unlikely that a financial match was possible.
Again, let’s take time to remember that LeBron James, by miles the best player in the world (ever), is the eighth-highest paid player in the league (after Kobe, Dirk, Gilbert Arenas (!!!), Amare (!!!), Carmelo, Joe Johnson (!!!), and Pau Gasol). Great players who want to win titles sometimes have to do these things to succeed. That’s always assuming guys want to win titles, you could hardly argue that Amare Stoudemire really wants to win a title. Some guys just want to make money. Howard did leave $30m on the table in LA – the Lakers could have offered him more like $110m over five years, even though there is no state income tax in Texas so Howard’s paycheck in Houston will go a little further there.
Another interesting name that is on the market at the moment is Andrew Bynum. Bynum is a superior player to Dwight, if perhaps a little less emotionally stable. After the farce of his most recent season in Philadelphia where he bowled, got a few haircuts and didn’t play a lick of basketball, Bynum’s stock is way down. He will of course still command an impressive salary when an NBA team takes a gamble on him and he is probably the most skilled big man in the NBA at the moment. The problem with Bynum is that it often seems as though he is a tall guy who was forced to play basketball and never really wanted to, despite his obvious skill.
Charles Barkley, among others, has suggested that Howard has to win a title in order to rehabilitate his reputation. Let’s hope he does that.