Leave Dwight Howard Alone!
Just leave him alone.
The Houston Rockets are a disappointing 1-4 since unwrapping a Christmas Day victory against the San Antonio Spurs. The team is staring down the barrel of a difficult schedule while flailing in an attempt to overcome a deteriorating run of defensive play. And it's not Dwight Howard's fault.
Dwight Howard's Last Five Games
Dwight Howard is thirty years old and has logged more than 30,000 career minutes. At this juncture the league has acknowledged he's not the "I'm dragging the Orlando Magic to the NBA Finals" Dwight anymore. Come to terms with it everyone.
In the last five games the Rockets have slid, but Dwight Howard has proven he's recovered from a back injury by playing more than 30 minutes each game. Let's go full Bill Simmons:
LINE ONE: 36.5 mpg, 19.2 ppg, 12.6 rpg, .739 FG% & .609 FT%.
LINE TWO: 33.8 mpg, 16.4 ppg, 14 rpg, .577 FG% & .412 FT%.
Line one is Dwight Howard's last five games. Line two is Howard's 17 playoff games during last year's run to the Western Conference Finals.
The point of the comparison? Howard is carrying his weight, arguably he's doing it more effectively on the offensive end than he has in the past.
On the year Dwight is even beginning to climb the advanced metrics after being behind Clint Capela by several measures for a portion of the season. Howard is past his own previous placement in PER and Value Added rankings during the 2014 - 2015 season and places 10th in the NBA with both a 19.9 Rebound Rate and 28.2 Defensive Rebound Rate.
Dwight Howard's Effort
36.5 minutes per game over the last five games. There's the on-court proof Dwight Howard put the necessary effort into his recovery. Amid a team being derided for a lack of effort and a lack of preparation Howard appears to see a team that needs help immediately, not one that needs him in the playoffs... one that needs him now.
Watch any Rockets game and this is evident: Dwight Howard's biggest frustration stems from the lack of effort exuded around him. The court is packed with talent and the team can hit a 2014-2015 rhythm at any moment. He's trying to turn that belief into success by leading through example. It's not the same as the petulant attitude and complaints commonplace during the Howard tenure in Orlando and Los Angeles.
This reality was crystal clear during the blow out by the San Antonio Spurs. James Harden hit the bench for the fourth quarter. Meanwhile Dwight Howard asked J.B. Bickerstaff to stay on the court, meaning he was either refusing to roll over for the Western Conference leaders and appear soft or refusing to accept the pending reality.
Stop. Dwight Howard was always going to opt out of the final year of his contract. It's why he negotiated the contract to contain a player option the year before a new collective bargaining agreement, which was always expected to leave almost every NBA franchise with cap space to spend.
The value of expiring contracts has never been lower in the NBA. The cap rises next year providing every team an instant cushion, draft picks are considered more valuable in the NBA than ever before and there's swirling questions about Howard's viability for a long-term maximum contract.
The Rockets can't make a run in the playoffs without James Harden and Dwight Howard anchoring this team and trading Howard makes little sense after the team proved the ability to get hot last year. The Rockets are in Dallas Mavericks mode right now: Gather as much talent as possible, make the playoffs, see what happens.
Being the sixth seed in the playoffs just means the Rockets will have to adopt the mentality that "those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind." Or something else co-opted by Adidas.
The wash of rumors last month about Dwight Howard's happiness are residual. It doesn't appear to be reflective of his attitude toward this team, but is the lasting impact of his drawn out extraction from Orlando and the Kobe Bryant feud season in Los Angeles.
This is Howard's past reputation coming home to roost. He's been around several underachieving teams in the past and handled each situation exceedingly poorly.
In Houston it's an understood but inappropriate application. Howard lost the head coach he appreciated and worked well with after his teammates put forward limited effort. The big man is often forced to absorb fouls or unwinnable defensive circumstances around the rim because his teammates have given up on defending the perimeter.
There's plenty to be unhappy about in Houston right now, but Howard appears to genuinely be channeling his frustration into his play.
Leave him alone.