Sorry Lakers, Dwight Howard Just Wasn't That Into You
Just before the lockout-shortened 2011-2012 NBA season, the Houston Rockets completed a three team trade that would have sent then-New Orleans point guard Chris Paul to the Lakers, Lakers forward Pau Gasol to the Rockets, and an appetizer sampler of Luis Scola, Kevin Martin, and other odds and ends to the then-league owned Hornets.
Photo by Howcheng via Wikipedia
For a general manager in search of a "foundation player" ever since Yao Ming's feet and the entirety of Tracy McGrady's anatomy ceased cooperating, Daryl Morey was thrilled to finally land an All-Star caliber player and one of the best big men in the game. For a team seeking a return to title conversations, this was a big step for the Rockets.
Until, of course, it wasn't.
Commissioner David Stern, wearing his "acting on behalf of the Hornets" luchador mask, stepped in and vetoed the trade on the basis of the now infamous and still infuriatingly esoteric "basketball reasons."
Back to square one the Rockets went.
Well, after another lottery finish in 2011-12, a James Harden-fueled playoff appearance in 2012-13, and a torturous afternoon last Friday for their fans and undoubtedly their management team, the Rockets are now a long way from square one.
Dwight Howard is a Houston Rocket, and ironically, this time it was "basketball reasons" that sealed the deal, not scuttled it.
Throughout the build up to and the duration of the five team courtship process of Dwight Howard, there were only two certainties: that nobody knew what Howard would do, and that whatever he decided, there would be a faction of the NBA constituency (fans, media, other players) who would ridicule him for his decision.
In the end, despite reports from ESPN's Chris Broussard (who probably needs Tommy John surgery considering how much garbage he threw against the wall to see if it would stick) about Dallas being a major factor heading into the presentations, and despite what looked like a late push from Golden State, this race boiled down to a battle between the Rockets and the Lakers.
On the side of logic sat the Rockets and their seemingly endless list of, well, basketball reasons why Dwight Howard should play in Rocket red for the next four years, and hopefully the remainder, of his career.
As he probably could do in his sleep by now, Morey outlined the Rockets' selling points to Howard for Comcast Sports Net just after Howard made his decision (and presumably after Morey dried himself off from the champagne bath in the Rockets war room after receiving Howard's affirmative phone call):
"If you look at 'best player,' James Harden is the best player out there he could join. If you look at 'most successful team he could join,' last year Golden State got us by a couple wins, but if you look at not only the age of our team but also look at point differential (which predicts the future better) we beat all the other contenders in that. We've got more future draft picks, more free agent money, and more great, young players for him to join than any other team."
And if Morey had more time than a mere snippet question on a television studio show, I'm certain he'd also list the presence of a Hall of Fame big man (Kevin McHale) as Dwight's next head coach, and an owner (Leslie Alexander) who will expend all resources necessary to field a championship team.
Now, you could probably give Morey a full week, and he'd never list another huge reason why the Rockets are the logical place for Dwight Howard to finally win an NBA title:
Through three seasons hovering around .500, just outside the NBA playoffs, on the fringe of the NBA lottery, and smack dab in NBA purgatory, through three seasons of talk radio chatter (from callers and, admittedly, hosts) about his ability to get "base hits" but inability to hit the home run, Morey's patience, precision, and preparation allowed for a triple in the gap back in October 2012 when he
stole acquired James Harden from the Thunder, and then a grand slam this weekend with the Howard acquisition.
Morey even followed up the Howard deal with a couple solid line drives up the middle, bringing back Francisco Garcia and signing Omri Casspi to surround his new big man with even more shooters.
(By the way, if we're doing baseball analogies, unloading Royce White on the Sixers was like getting beaned in the rib cage. Yeah, the outcome was generally positive, but, man oh man, the pain you had to endure to get there.)
By the way, before the Garcia signing, Howard was set to be the oldest player on the team. At 27 years old.
Left with the basketball equivalent of a few $5 chips floating around in his pocket after Yao and McGrady collapsed, Morey sat down at the NBA's poker table undaunted and turned his scraps into a pyramid stack of chips.
What I'm trying to say is if anyone can ensure that Howard will have players around him befitting his talent level, it's the guy who constructed this group, and that's Morey.