According to an ESPN LA report, Dwight Howard could soon hit the trade block. Though the Rockets whiffed in July and apparently moved on from Howard, could they turn down the opportunity again?
I'm sorry, I don't mean to bring back the Dwightmare that many of you thought had passed, but it is definitely something worth discussing as this team is still being put together. The Rockets finally have their star at the forefront in James Harden, and are desperately trying to find another star player to put alongside him. Yes, Omer Asik has impressed this season, but there is no doubt that Howard is the most dominant big man in the league if healthy and would absolutely change the landscape of the Rockets future if they could land him and get him under contract.
Unfortunately those three "ifs" are the biggest barriers to a Rockets deal for Howard. Let's look at each of them in detail.
It's no secret that Dwight Howard has not been at full strength this season coming off of back surgery. His mobility has been compromised, his lift isn't fully there, and it's showing in his game. Shots he'd easily have dunked in the past are now layups, shots that would be swatted into the stands are now conceded buckets, and the difference is definitely concerning.
Back injuries can be chronic, but it's worth noting that this is Howard's first major injury in his nine year career in the NBA. And if Howard is compromised now, this version of him is still pretty darn dominant. He's the league leader in rebounds per game (12.3), 5th in blocks per game (2.53), and still scoring 17 points a game.
Morey has shown a willingness to take risks on high value, fragile players in the past, and I think he'd be willing to make a move on Howard.
If They Could Get Him
Here's where it gets hairy. The Nets are reportedly uninterested in Howard, and the other teams that would likely be involved (Atlanta, Dallas) haven't expressed as much interest in Howard in the past.
Still, even if the Rockets weren't competing against other teams in the bidding, they would have to convince the Lakers that it is worth it to break up the "dream team" they had built just months before. With that, they'd have to part with a lot of young talent. Omer Asik? Gone. Chandler Parsons? Gone. Terrence Jones? Adios. Motiejunas? See ya.
Even with a very large offer of young talent, this is where the going gets tough. Perhaps the Rockets could trump the top offer on the market, but I don't imagine the prospect of adding Chandler Parsons and Omer Asik to the starting lineup would be so mouthwatering to Mitch Kupchak that he'd give up the franchise center he'd shockingly acquired in July.
At the end of the day, I think this is going to be the largest barrier for a deal, and the reason why the Rockets do not end up with Howard. Even if Howard "hits the block," it's going to take an extraordinary package to get him and I'm not sure they can come up with that.
If They Keep Him
This is where my careful pessimism from the last paragraph turns into a bit of fantasy land. If the Rockets could somehow acquire Howard for Asik, Parsons, young talent, draft picks, and more, the Rockets could head into the summer with Harden under contract for five years, Lin for two, near-max cap space and Howard's bird rights (they'd have some $30 million in cap space, but Howard's cap hold would take up nearly $20 million).
This is where it gets fun. This summer, the Rockets didn't have much to sell Howard on ("Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik? Sounds fun!"). Now, with Harden in the fold, they'd have a star entering his prime with five more years on his contract, the opportunity to pick another top free agent (Josh Smith, Paul Millsap, or Andre Iguodala?), and make a deep run with this squad. They'd still be young, but they'd have far more upside than the OJ Mayo-led Dallas Mavericks. Atlanta would have a nice pitch, but Harden could be a trump card.
It is worth saying that they could make this same pitch to Howard this summer with or without trading for him, but trading for him eliminates the Lakers from the bidding. If he isn't traded, I'm almost certain Howard sticks around for his 5 years and nearly $110 million in Los Angeles.
But if the Rockets acquired him, Los Angeles would be unable to sign him, removing the biggest player from the competition.
At the end of the day, this is all a lot of speculation based on one report. Howard is almost certainly going to stay in Los Angeles all season before re-signing this summer, but it's fun to think about the possibilities. What do you think? Is it worth it for the Rockets to pursue Dwight Howard again?