Well, after all that, Dwight Howard will remain a Rocket. Despite several unsuccessful attempts to move Howard, Houston was unable to find a suitable deal, so Dwight will stay in H-town, at least until the end of the season.
It's interesting to think that the Donatas Motiejunas/Marcus Thornton combo was able to fetch GM Daryl Morey a protected first-round pick, while no one was willing to offer a pick for Dwight, which was one of the sticking points and a reason Howard is still on the Rockets' roster today.
In fact, the only real, legitimate offer being leaked anywhere was one from Charlotte that featured Al Jefferson and Spencer Hawes in return for Howard. That's it. No picks.
Houston Rockets turned down Charlotte's offer of Al Jefferson & Spencer Hawes for Dwight Howard, according to league sources.— Frank Isola (@FisolaNYDN) February 18, 2016
It's a testament both to how far Howard's league-reputation has fallen and to how much the increased salary cap is a game-changer. No one is willing to give up a pick for a player than can likely be had in free agency in just a few months by any number of teams that will now have the cash to get it done if they wish.
In previous years, the cap would limit the competition for a free agent's services. This year's wild west opens up practically the entire league, and Howard is apparently hell-bent on testing that bonanza and has refused to opt-in if dealt, scaring off teams from offering any real resources except otherwise expandable players.
ESPN sources say Bucks would only consider Dwight Howard trade if they knew they had him beyond this season; Howard wants to be free agent— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) February 18, 2016
ESPN sources say Houston also talked Dwight Howard with Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Miami. Looming free agency big obstacle— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) February 18, 2016
So where do the Rockets go from here?
At the moment, it appears there's no realistic way Howard returns to the Rockets in free agency. In a season filled with on-court chemistry issues and rumors of locker room discontent, perhaps the biggest bit of drama appeared just today, in which both Harden and Howard apparently have had their issues since 2014.
This, combined with year-long slop on the court, combined with the secret meeting with management, combined with the organization's immediate decision afterward to shop Howard around the league, has the writing on the wall. We only have to read it. Harden and Howard just can't play nice anymore.
If you have to keep one or the other, the answer is abundantly clear. For all his faults, you keep the 26-year-old shooting guard one-season removed from an MVP-caliber year over the 30-year-old, fast-aging center with a bad back and knees.
Sure, the Rockets will likely at least pretend publicly that this relationship can be saved, and there will be token rumors about team management meeting with Dwight in the summer, but Howard is as good as gone when the season ends. What real reason is there for him to stay? In a situation suddenly this noxious, it's simply the best move for both parties.