Dwight Howard Sweepstakes: Houston, We Have an $88 Million Problem

Dwight Howard has done more waffling this past year and a half than an IHOP chef. First, he sent the Orlando Magic into a downward spiral that resulted in the ousting of a great coach and the start of a rebuilding process. Next, he flopped in Los Angeles and turned what was supposed to be a title contender into an aging roster that now looks ready for an overhaul.

Photo Credit: Google Images

Photo Credit: Google Images

Now, unless Kobe Bryant transforms into a combination of Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlin, Bill Russell, LeBron James, Magic Johnson, and Eddy Curry (wait what?) within the next few months while he is simultaneously rehabbing one of sports most gruesome injuries, he will not win that sixth ring within the next two seasons as he hoped.

So let’s see…while trying to find a place that was right for him he got a top-of-the-line coach fired, sent that same franchise into a rebuild, and derailed the dwindling prime of a future Hall of Famer.

So why would anyone want to solidify their franchise with Dwight Howard?!

Well is a 7-footer who three years ago was a top-3 player in this league, he is 27 years old, is a perennial all defensive player, and has career averages of 18 points and 13 rebounds. So what happens now?

Before we can start predicting LeBron’s fate (yet again) and look forward to next year’s star-studded free agent class we must analyze the ramifications of this one…

Where do the Lakers go from here?

Are the Rockets legitimate title contenders?

And my favorite question to answer…what do the Lakers do with Kobe Bryant?

Laker Face

Laker Face (Photo credit: daveblume)

Let’s start with the Lakers, perhaps the leagues most glorified franchise. By not resigning Dwight they are free to splurge how they please next season. If the gods are good to Los Angeles, the following scenario plays out: the Lakers find a trade partner for Steve Nash and Kobe rests all of next season, sending the Lakers into turmoil. They then land in the lottery and take a blue-chip prospect to build around. That prospect, along with a healthy and rested Kobe Bryant, lure in free agents in next year’s loaded class and the Lakers begin a new dynasty…

But let’s be real, the Lakers have way too much pride to tank and so does Kobe Bryant. I believe that the Lakers are going to figure it out next season in spite of Dwight Howard and prove they are a better team without a top-15 player in the league. However, while they will play their keisters off, nothing is going to happen unless Steve Nash returns to the ageless wonder he once was and Kobe/Pau experiment with some deer antler spray.

In my opinion OKC, San Antonio, the Clippers, Memphis, Houston and Golden State are all playoff locks next season. This leaves two spots open. One for the Nuggets, who are going to be solid even though they lost Andre Iguodala. One for Dallas, which still has globs of money to spend and overly animated Mark Cuban still in the stands. And one for the Hornets and Timberwolves, both of which are much improved. Four teams, two spots, where magic happens.

Photo credit: Google Images

Photo credit: Google Images

It’s going to be a dogfight for the final two spots in the West and I am just not sure the Lakers can pull this one off. So again I advise Mitch Kupchak to tank it; they are not winning the championship next season. The Lakers have zero cap room right now so they cannot build through free agency and they have an aging roster…it seems now is the time to tear it down, get into a stacked lottery, and go from there.

Moving on to the face of the Lakers; Kobe Bryant, a “soon-to-be 35-year-old coming off major foot surgery on a team that is essentially rebuilding” does not sound good for a player with championship aspirations.

Photo credit: lakernation.com

Photo credit: lakernation.com

I think that this final stretch in Kobe’s career has been and will be by far his most challenging. When Shaq bolted, Kobe was still just 25 and had a long prime ahead of him. He had the time to go through the rebuilding process. Now at 34, time is not on his side as he aims to tie Michael Jordan’s six rings.

Perhaps the best decision for his career would be to bolt next year in free agency. However, Kobe is LA…he will bleed purple and gold until he calls it quits. If we have learned only one thing about Kobe Bryant, it is that he is a born competitor who loves a challenge. If he is able to stick through this rebuilding period and come out of it with a ring, Kobe’s career would be even further immortalized.

Kobe is not retiring without ring No. 6. Simply put. He knows that six rings will put him warmly back into the Jordan conversation and will probably solidify him as a top-10 player ever (maybe even top-5?).

While the latest twist in Kobe’s entertaining career does not define him, it could permanently carve him into basketball immortality if he defeats it. It’s an uphill battle, but you never bet against the Black Mamba.

Finally we’ve got Dwight and this Rockets team. As of now, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik are still on the team (reports are surfacing about a potential sign and trade with those two pieces).

But is a core of Dwight Howard, James Harden, and Chandler Parsons good enough to win the NBA Title?

Probably not.

I would go as far to say that even adding Josh Smith does not make them title winners.

Photo credit: loljocks.blogspot.com

Photo credit: loljocks.blogspot.com

Why?

Because they do not have a point guard that can set everything up. Look at the final four teams this season in the NBA. LeBron plays the “Point-Forward,” Tony Parker is as good as it gets, Mike Conley Jr. has turned into a potent starting point guard and ditto with George Hill. To be successful in the NBA, it is essential that your team has a good point guard. Jeremy Lin, Patrick Beverley, and Isaiah Caanan are good role players and I believe Beverley can become more then that but they are not elite starting point guards right now.

If I am the Rockets, I am putting my chips on the table and going after Rajon Rondo. Chandler Parsons, Omer Asik, and future picks could be enticing enough to bring Rondo in. Imagine a Rondo-Howard-Harden big three? With the full mid-level exception, Houston could also look at Andrei Kirlenko to play the 3 or a stretch 4.

The Rockets have time though, so they do not have to be in win-now mode because Harden and Howard, their main pieces, are still young. Daryl Morey can tinker with this roster, as those “main pieces” are also his only long-term contracts. Phew!

Speaking of Daryl Morey, the Rockets were annually stuck in NBA purgatory not too long ago. The team was not bad enough to get a nice lottery slot, but wasn’t good enough to secure the top-6 seed in the west. Despite treading in dangerously uneventful waters, Morey swam to victory…

He hijacked an unprotected first-round pick for Kyle Lowry (cut to Raptors fans going nuts). Next – brace yourself Thunder fans – he traded Steven Adams (an Australian basketball player who averaged less than 10 points per game in the Big East, via Toronto’s 1st-round pick), Jeremy Lamb (so far a bust in the league) and one year of Kevin Martin for… oh yes… James Harden. Daryl Morey outsmarted Sam Presti and has now convinced Dwight Howard to flee Hollywood.

Dwight Howard & kobe bryant

Dwight Howard & kobe bryant (Photo credit: scott mecum)

Now Dwight has to produce; there are no more distractions about where he is going to be. He has a formidable star alongside him with more help coming. With the right pieces, this club can provide legitimate competition against the Warriors and the Thunder as the Western Conference alpha-dogs (the Warriors are on a serious up-tick). It should be fun watching the Thunder and Rockets play, having Durant and Westbrook thinking about what could have been as Harden feeds D12 for an alley-oop.

For Dwight Howard’s entire career, people including myself have believed that he doesn’t truly care about winning. He can either be remembered as a diva who had all the talent in the world but let his ego get in front of his game, or he can learn from his prior mistakes and ascend to greatness in Houston.

With that being said, Howard did just make Kobe Bryant, the fiercest competitor in the NBA, angrier than Lou Gehrig made Wally Pipp. As the Heat remain the East powerhouse, the West is currently one big juggernaut ready to dominate. Seeing which team takes control of the conference is just one of the ever-thickening subplots of the NBA’s future. For Howard and co., the time is now.

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