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Return of The Expatriate - Or Suddenly, Last Summer

Xiane returns, with a scintillating array of brilliant observations.* *Observations are neither scintillating nor brilliant.

Kevin McHale telepathically transmits effective post moves to Dwight Howard.
Kevin McHale telepathically transmits effective post moves to Dwight Howard.
Bob Levey

Welcome back you all.

(Welcome back to writing for TDS, Xiane. It's taken you long enough to write something, he wrote, referring to himself in both 2nd and 3rd person.)

The Houston Rockets have opened training camp for the 2013-2014 season with high expectations, after a summer that saw the Rockets lure away the best center in the NBA from the Los Angeles Lakers to join a young roster that was already playoff caliber.

I'm going to write about my expectations for the season, and do a run through of the roster and what I expect from it soon.  For now, though, I'd like to weigh in on what happened while I was largely away this summer.  These events have been well-covered, but no doubt you've lain awake of a night wondering what my thoughts might be.  Wonder no longer.

Dwight Howard doesn't sign with LA aka the gift that keeps on giving.

This was clearly the biggest story of the NBA off-season.  Guess what? It's going to be one of the bigger stories of the upcoming season, no matter how things go. There's no way for "the media" to lose.

The story could be "Dwight Howard fails miserably away from the Lakers. Look how clever Los Angeles and Kobe are!".

The story could be "Dwight Howard succeeds without help from Kobe and the Lakers.  Look how miserable Los Angeles and Kobe are!".

The astute reader will note that the Rockets aren't mentioned either way.  I think you can pretty much expect it to go that way.  The Rockets will get some attention, but as brazen hussy home wreckers, the Angelina Jolie, if you will, in the "Brad & Jen" tabloid fodder we can look forward to all season.

Those "Brad & Jen & Angelina" stories are still coming out, by the way, in late 2013. 2004.  That's when it all began, almost a decade ago. When I say the Dwight & Kobe & LA story is the gift that keeps on giving, I mean it.  I expect those stories to run until Kobe retires, if he ever does.  It's a mini-industry waiting to happen.

There may be a few "Turns out Daryl Morey is a pretty sharp guy, and now rival NBA teams have lured away the entire Rockets staff, including ball boys." stories. Which is entirely true - is there any front office left?

If the Rockets don't win 65 games and the NBA title this season, the Howard signing is a failure.

Nope. Howard and Harden are signed for years to come.  The Heat didn't win a title their first year with LeBron and Bosh, and I'm not sure they would have come out of the West that season, either.  The success or failure of the Howard signing won't be determined by anything but the Rockets winning a title this season.

This season might be considered a failure if the Rockets don't advance past the first round.  Everything else is a qualified success of some sort, with reaching the finals being an unqualified success, should it happen.

Los Angeles didn't truly want to sign Dwight Howard, but only pretended.

This strikes me as ludicrous.  When I want someone to go away, I typically scatter 50ft posters begging them to stay around a city.  Furthermore, when an offer is made to retain a player, there is always a chance that said player will accept the offer.  With so much money on the line, not to mention cap space and luxury tax implications, that's a risk few teams would take, I'd think.

Perhaps LA was ambivalent about signing Howard, and given the dynamic that developed last season, I could see that. Even so, who was to blame for that dynamic?  Did Howard put the Lakers in an untenable position by himself?

Also, despite the off year from Howard, he was still a max contract player, based on current production, scarcity of decent centers, and the nature of max deals these days.  Los Angeles isn't exactly bursting with stars under 33 at this point, the average age of its star players is 36. (Best Laker under 30? It's probably Jordan Hill.) There wasn't really a place for a 27 year old star center, who played at an MVP level as recently as 2 years ago, and played hurt most of last season? When was the last time a Laker truly played at MVP level?

(Don't cry for the Lakers, just await the random magic of the NBA lottery - you've been warned.)

Selected Rockets Other Than Dwight Howard

Jeremy Lin - Won a 1-on-1 game with Dwight.  Practiced his jump shot.  Starred in a religiously oriented movie. Discovered his left hand.

James Harden - Went to Alaska. Talked about improving his defense.  Making all the right noises. Sided, quite properly, with Kevin Durant in Durant v Dwyane Wade (The Cheapshot Artist) Twitterfight.

Chandler Parsons - Helped recruit Dwight. Penned an advice column for "17" magazine. Didn't like a particular pizza place.

Donatas Motiejunas - Played for Lietuva in Eurobasket.  Didn't do all that much in the tourney. Looks stronger.

Terrence Jones - Arrested for "Misdemeanor Harassment" in an unfortunate situation involving a club, a sidewalk and a homeless man.  Jones has never flown a "Red Flag" before, and I expect this to blow over, and Jones to be a bit poorer. I also expect a big season from Mr. Jones. Did very well in Orlando Summer League (which looks like a desultory HS practice compared to Vegas.)

Omer Asik - Embraced his right to remain silent enthusiastically. Played for Turkey this summer. I think it'll all work out fine.

Aaron Brooks - Is apparently the 3rd best Rocket, according to NBA2K14.

Other Rockets - Make for a deep bench.  Surprise.

Royce White - Is Someone Else's Problem. Just wanted to mention that.

Dwight Howard is a bad player, a bad person, indecisive and it will all end in tears.

Dwight Howard isn't a bad player.  He didn't play at an MVP level last year, or the year before, but he was still among the best players in the NBA, particularly at center. "Bad Player" is something of a straw man, yet that seems to be the way Howard was often portrayed.  Not as a player wasn't playing at an MVP level currently, but a "bad player".

Consider this - Dwight Howard has played at an MVP level before (2011) not an All-Star level - MVP.  If last year represents the downside, Howard is absolutely a risk worth taking.  It is not out of the question that health, and the right situation, leads to a return to MVP form.

I have no idea if Howard is a bad person.  As he isn't involved in the criminal justice system we'll have to leave it to the people in his life to decide if he's a bad person or not.  To be entirely honest, I'm often happy to bring in all sorts of personal matters if they pertain to a player I don't like (Hi, Karl Malone!).  But in Howard's case that stuff seems more irresponsible (and sad on several levels) than reprehensible.  That is to say, Howard isn't unilaterally responsible for the situation, so to speak.

Howard seemed to make his decision to come to Houston with a minimum of waffling.  Perhaps that's because the choice seemed obvious to him (It did to me.) Certain members of the media wanted to tell a tale of (still more) Indecisive Dwight Howard, but the facts wouldn't support that story.

From my perspective It appears that Howard was mainly guilty of coming back from surgery too early, and of not rolling over on his back when Kobe Bryant demanded it of him. He was also guilty of not liking Mike D'Antoni, although I'm not sure that's a flaw, either.

None of those makes him a bad player, or a bad person.  Now Dwight Howard gets to be the visible face of a franchise without actually having to truly be The Star. This was not the case in either LA, or Orlando. In Orlando, he was the only star.  In LA, well...

Houston's #1 Star is James Harden, but Harden looks to be canny enough not to insist that Howard roll over and affirm his dominance. (Why Kobe Bryant would appear to insist on this, to his own detriment, is fascinating to me.)

Now, has Howard done stupid, annoying, questionable, waffly, and backhanded stuff in the past?  Yes, absolutely. There was the situation with Stan Van Gundy, his re-signing for one year with Orlando when everyone knew he was leaving, and the annoying year of wondering where he'd go that would follow.  All those things happened, but the only person with a real beef in any of it seems to be SVG.  So let's not exhume all that.

As Rockets fans we have to hope that both LA and Orlando were situations that spiraled out of control and lead to various recriminations and hurt feelings. We have to believe that there were points in both multi-car crashes where irrecoverable errors could have been averted.  We have to hope that the Rockets coaching staff, front office and management are going to overcome the challenges Dwight will present.  All that will ultimately depend on Dwight, but right now, at least, he seems to realize he's landed on his feet.

I'm hopeful.  I'm hopeful because I think Orlando was a team that was broken by a GM catering to what Howard thought he wanted, and also desperately trying to keep his job.  I'm hopeful that Dwight learned another important lesson at Stan Van Gundy's expense.

I'm hopeful because I think that with the coaching fiasco in Los Angeles, the death of Jerry Buss and the ensuing power vacuum, Howard's health and the friction between Bryant and Howard, that the situation was poisoned from the start.  Right now everything is roses in Houston.  Howard gets to be carefree and happy, and The Star, with a young, and decidedly not-grim group of players.  He has a coach that any big man must respect at some level. Management will not change its methods to cater to any player, including him.

Will it end in tears?  Maybe.  Sporting hopes so often do end in tears in Houston.  But maybe it ends in banners.

Xiane's Personal Update - No, you aren't expected to care.

I haven't been around much, because I've relocated from Houston to the Pacific Northwest, and it has been crazy busy.  Also it has been off-season in the NBA, which is generally far from crazy busy (notable exceptions discussed above).

I, of course, remain a Rockets fan, but I've always liked the Trailblazers, so its not hard for me to cheer for them except when it affects the Rockets.

I will be able to watch the Rockets on my TV, via League Pass. I hope you'll all be able to watch the Rockets, too. Hopefully the bankruptcy courts will get CSN Houston mess sorted soon. I don't know how game threads are going to go with 5pm game start times out here  - I hope to be around at least sometimes.

I'm looking forward to a pretty fantastic Rockets season.