It's widely assumed that Dwight Howard will be leaving in the offseason. The Rockets' subpar record has them on the verge of missing the playoffs, the organization just finished with numerous aggressive, yet unsuccessful, attempts to move Howard at the trade deadline, and Howard's relationship with fellow superstar James Harden is rumored to have been on the rocks for going on two years now.
Most people, including us here at TDS, have Howard as good as gone when the season wraps up. It's difficult to picture him wanting to return after mucking through such a disastrous season on all fronts, but through all of this, Howard continues to insist that he's happy, telling the Houston Chronicle's Jonathan Feigen:
"Like I said since I've been here, I love this team. I love the city. I want to win a championship. As far as all that business stuff, it's out of my control. My job is to perform and help my teammates. The other stuff, you think about during the summer. I'm just going to focus on basketball, how I can be a better teammate, how I can continue to grow with James, on our relationship, and lead these guys."
And if hearing it straight from the horse's mouth wasn't enough, those around Howard agree that he seems ready to move forward, with coach J.B. Bickerstaff telling Feigen:
"With the conversations we've had, I think he's in a great place. He's on a mission. I think there's a purpose where's he's at. It's going to be impactful. He feels kind of slighted. People have kind of forgotten about him and all of the things he's done. He's out to prove something. That combined with his spirit being up, I think we'll see a big impact."
The Rockets organization continues to say all the right things publicly as well, with USA Today's Sam Amick reporting that the team is focusing on some positive and oft-overlooked aspects of the Howard-Harden partnership as a reason to not close the book on keeping Dwight in the offseason.
Amick notes that the Rockets have had the 5th best record in the NBA since acquiring Howard, even including this year's under .500 mark, that Harden and Howard have the 4th highest combined points-rebounds-assists per game combo of any set of teammates in the league, and that Howard is one of only three players in the NBA averaging at least 14 points and 11 rebounds this season.
"The Rockets know all this, which is why their dream scenario of a Howard-Harden-Durant trio that would be as good as any in the NBA is still the primary goal. Durant's close friendship with Harden from their Oklahoma City days is as good a recruiting edge as a team can have...
The Rockets could have the ability to add two max money players if they so choose, and the Harden-Howard relationship, while far from perfect, is effective enough that confidence remains they can make it work."
Howard also continues to preach that his relationship and chemistry with the Beard is fine, though you wouldn't know it by the plethora of reports saying otherwise, and the now-viral and embarrassing vine of their failed alley-oop attempt from Tuesday's loss in Utah to the Jazz.
The players followed that missed connection up with stern glares for one another, and regardless of whose fault it was, there's no doubting that two players with that talent level and multiple seasons together on the court should not be making those types of unforced errors. It sometimes looks like they never played together before.
Howard reiterates, however:
"People will say what they want to say. There's no need for me and him to worry about that. Our job is to grow and get better as a team and get better as individuals. I think me and James had a really good talk before the break. We've been more on the same page than we've ever been. I'm always going to have his back. I'm pretty sure he's always going to have time."
Despite the cushy words, it appears to most outside observers that this relationship has just about run its course. It's difficult to envision a scenario that has Howard returning to the Rockets in the offseason. I've said before and I'll say it again, that you can practically book Howard's exit from the team in offseason. The organization is saying otherwise, however, and Howard is, at the very least, paying public lip service to that thought process.
What say you, Rockets fans? Salvageable or not? Do you think Howard ultimately stays? Tell us in the comments below.