Reportedly, Hakeem Olajuwon is hammering out the specifics of his first contract to be a part of the Houston Rockets organization since before he was shipped off to Toronto in 2001.
Dwight Howard's ripple effect across front offices from coast-to-coast has been well documented, perhaps even to a fault. Today, however, his presence can be cited for bringing together the most star-studded public appearances of a single franchise's historical talent that I have ever seen in the NBA.
Even beyond the press conference spectacle, Dwight began to have his own impact on our front office when we signed Joe Rogowski as our strength and conditioning coach before we even knew Dwight was going to sign on the dotted line. The move has very heavy undertones of poising the Rockets to land Dwight as Joe was Howard's weight room trainer back in Orlando.
This rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. Having control over front office employment as a player is a recent NBA development that has drawn heavy criticism, especially as it related to Dwight. I mean, imagine the reaction to the Rogowski hiring if Dwight decided to stay in LA. Then there is the recent quote from Daryl Morey stating that "[t]he reality is James and Dwight want to play with Jeremy and Omer. I've been kicked down to Assistant GM. They're going to be here."
The Olajuwon signing represents, in my mind, a refreshing example of how a star player can positively affect front office personnel decisions. Dwight's hands are all over this move and I could not be happier about it.
Why He Signed and Why It Should Matter
Hakeem has done countless workouts with NBA players. According to Olajuwon, the whole process of individually training with players initially began, oddly enough, with a phone call from Kobe Bryant. Kobe wanted to improve his post play as he got later in his career and Hakeem was the man he wanted to learn from.
Since then, Hakeem has been bombarded with training requests from dozens of current NBA players. In addition to Kobe, Olajuwon has worked with: LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire, the Lopez Brothers, and numerous others.
Why now sign with a team?
Well, actually, this isn't the first time that he has done this for a franchise. Sure, he has individual workouts with specific players, but in 2012 the Knicks pulled a similar move with Dream by formally signing him to the Knicks organization in order for him to work with Carmelo, Amar'e, and Tyson Chandler under Mike Woodson. Woodson, of course, played with Olajuwon from 1988-1990 and again very briefly in 1991. The two had a personal connection and Hakeem was thrilled to get the opportunity and he continues to give Amar'e lessons this summe.
So, really, this signing is not all that revolutionary of a move, conceptually. Too be honest, at this point, we do not even know the length of the contract, let alone the specific details. It could just be for this lone season before its back to specialized individual workouts out at his ranch in Katy, Texas. It could be for the length of Howard's contract. Who knows?
This is still special, though.
Dwight's past workouts with Dream have not only show how impactful his workouts can be from a basketball skills standpoint, but it also demonstrates the special relationship the two have developed.
If you will also remember back in 1992, shortly after Woodson left the Rockets, Olajuwon became embroiled in a series of ugly public disputes with the Rockets that subjected him to some of the very same base criticisms that Dwight Howard is hearing now in 2013.
After his contract fights boiled over into accusations of faking injuries to gain leverage in contract negotiations, Hakeem's agent said that his relationship with the Rockets had "deteriorated to the point where there are irreconcilable differences." Lawsuits were threatened if he was not dealt. If not for a fateful overseas flight to play the Super Sonics in Japan where ownership was able to smooth over some differences, Dream may have been shipped out.
The fallout produced media reports doubting his leadership skills and for his inability to put his team before his own personal preferences. People dogged him for the perception that he blamed the player personnel surrounding him for their early playoff exists in the years since their 1986 run.
None of this is to say that Dwight and Hakeem's situations are entirely comparable. But the Rockets were almost in the position of playing the Orlando Magic in the early ‘Dwightmare' days. The management's reactions were certainly different (one rid itself of its coach, the other suspended their all-star), but if the Rockets pulled the trigger and sent Olajuwon to the Los Angeles Lakers of this admittedly awkward analogy, the media coverage would have been playing out in a very similar fashion to Dwight's. Twitter would have shredded Hakeem to pieces, even at AOL speeds.
Having your star player threaten a lawsuit unless trade demands are placated because of an unsatisfactory contract offer and a deterioration of relations with management isn't exactly the image of Olajuwon that we hold in our collective Rockets memory. Howard's trials and tribulations also do not necessarily constitute history repeating itself, but it sure does seem to rhyme. Part of me wants to believe that Hakeem sees a little bit of himself in Dwight Howard in that respect.
But, ultimately, the reason you join the Rockets officially now is because they are finally back in contention featuring a player that had been personally mentored by Hakeem for years. Now, as part of Olajuwon's NBA alma mater, Dwight and the front office want more frequent contact between the former defensive players of the year. Both of them want to be a part of more championship years in Houston and it appears they would like to do it together.
My guess is also that during the negotiation process, being very attracted to the legacy of big men Houston has had over the years, Howard wanted much more than simply being able to have his name next to theirs on paper. He likely wanted some formal guarantee that he would get to work with Hakeem on a more consistent basis than he does now. The fact that these stories are only coming out after Dwight has formally signed his contract make this line of thinking a bit more persuasive to me.
Hakeem did say that he thought there was "an 85 percent chance [Dwight] ends up in Houston," noting that "after that meeting we had, I feel very comfortable that we have the best chance to get him." That confidence may have stemmed from his close personal connection to Dwight and what they knew they could accomplish together in Houston.
What Role Will Olajuwon Play?
While Hakeem will likely fill a ‘player development' type position officially, Olajuwon has his family and his main residence in Amman, Jordan in the Middle East so it is very unlikely that Dwight will be seeing Hakeem on a daily basis, year-round. More than likely, there will be certain times where Dream will fly in for long stretches to train with the team. Daryl Morey has been quoted saying that they would like to "bring him in as full-time as is possible."
The thing that makes this a great acquisition is that Hakeem will not only get more exposure to Dwight, but will also be able to train with Omer and hopefully other young big men like Greg Smith, Terrence Jones, and Donatas Motiejunas. Obviously the focus will be on Asik and Howard when Dream is in town, but it seems silly to think that these young players won't be able to get in on the action as well at least a little bit. Harden has also been known to bang around with the bigs during practice, I hope Harden is able to get Olajuwon's Kobe treatment at some point this off-season and beyond.
Even if the only thing you truly get out of the Hakeem addition is the psychological sense of comfort Howard needs by guaranteeing significant access to two of the best big men in NBA history when training, it's still a huge plus. Say what you will about Dwight's character, but when the man feels comfortable in his surroundings he is unquestionably a beast. The only disagreement is about what exactly constitutes "comfortable." I am of the opinion that he has crossed that threshold, at least for the next several seasons.
Another opportunity cost calculation in signing Hakeem officially is that it can potentially deprive other players of the ability to train with him. If you watch some of the linked videos in this article, you'll see why that may matter for a lot of players. He has a lot of small tricks to teach people and depriving them the ability learn from him is potentially another small, rather tangential benefit of the signing.
In the end, however, my hope is that the one who comes out looking great in all of this is Omer Asik. He may not have been able to get Hakeem to sign without the prodding of Dwight Howard, who has professed Asik to be a critical cog in the championship machine we are trying to build in Houston. Daryl Morey, on Mike and Mike in the morning, said that "The issue with Dream working with us in the past was," that "he spends a lot of time in Jordan with various business interests...We had to catch his fancy and Dwight Howard has really caught his fancy."
Maybe it functions to boost Asik's trade value so we get a deal that Morey can credibly approach Harden and Howard about, or at the very least justify to them after the fact (which is the more likely scenario). Maybe it doesn't do much at all and Asik stone hands plague him for the rest of his career as he becomes the Turkish Tyson Chandler.
Regardless of how this all plays out I am excited about the possibilities that the whole process brings to the table.
Signing Hakeem may have simply been the cherry on top of it all, but sometimes the smallest details turn out to be the ones that matter the most. LeBron had to go through Hakeem's academy in order to get his back to back rings, and he a super human basketball cyborg!
But in all seriousness, Houston is starting to return to its roots and this signing symbolizes that in every way. Our offense is slated to look a bit more traditional next year and hopefully Hakeem can help this incredibly young group big men take their games to next level and compete for a NBA championship.
Here is more post-Hakeem training Dwight Howard. You can really tell how some of the Olajuwon training tips from just the video above he incorporated.