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What the Rockets' frontcourt looks like without Dwight Howard

With Howard gone, Houston looks a little thin up front.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Well, many of us (myself included) got our wish. Dwight Howard opted out of his $23 million contract with the Rockets, is officially an unrestricted free agent and no longer part of the Houston organization. There's been some lip service from GM Daryl Morey about still having a shot at convincing Howard to return, but that's only slightly more likely than Yao Ming signing to once again patrol the Toyota Center paint.

The Houston-Howard bridge was officially burned when D-12 went public with his inside grievances, and the relationship was officially laid to rest with the hiring of Mike D'Antoni. The coach and the center have a history, and it's not a particularly fond one for either, with Howard lobbying for the Lakers to fire D'Antoni back in 2013.

The Rockets and Howard are never getting back together, so it's time to look at life in the Houston frontcourt in the post D-12 era.


With Howard opting out, that means only two Rockets frontcourt players from last year are guaranteed back next season, Clint Capela and Montrezl Harrell.

Both players look like they have bright futures, but both are also more potential than actual production at this point in there careers. That isn't to say they don't have their strengths.

Capela is a fine shot blocker, averaging 1.2 per game this past season in 19.1 minutes and is adept at running the pick and roll and running the floor, while Harrell's intensity and effort can make him a factor, particularly on the defensive end.

But both players also have their faults. Capela is an atrocious free throw shooter, knocking down just 37.9 percent from the line, and he also has a limited offensive range and repertoire while also showing a penchant for personal fouls on the defensive end (4.7 per 36 minutes for his first two seasons combined.).

Harrell also struggles with his range on offense, taking 90 percent of his shots within 10 feet of the bucket and needs to add maturity to his game. The fiery power forward was suspended for 5 games this past year for pushing a D-League ref and will need to watch himself moving forward before developing a reputation with Association officials.

One or both of these guys could easily find themselves starting next season or at the very least playing significant minutes, with Capela the more likely to see extensive time.


In addition to Howard, the Rockets will most likely also be without Josh Smith, as J-Smoove was largely ineffective for the Rockets last year after initially firing out of the gates upon his return. That several game uptick quickly faded out into a sea of DNPs and typical low Smoove shooting percentages.

Smith does seem to enjoy being a Rocket, so there's a small chance the team brings him back if it needs to fill a roster spot, but for all intents and purposes, Smith's given the Rockets no reason to keep him on. We'll always have Game 6 for our Smoove memories.

Terrence Jones also looks like he's on his way out. The power forward never could quite get over the hump after initially looking like a break through possibility earlier in his career. Jones has seemed to get worse over time rather than improve, has missed oodles of games with several freak injuries and was mostly a healthy scratch towards the back half of the year.

The once-promising big looks to have flamed out in H-town and it would be a huge surprise if the team brings him back.


The Rockets tried to dump Donatas Motiejunas once already at the trade deadline, and despite his return to the franchise after Detroit nixed the deal on a contested "failed" physical, it's uncertain if the Houston front office wants him to return.

Back surgery slowed D-mo's development this past season, and though he began to round into form as the season drew to a close, the Motiejunas we saw in 2014-2015 never did fully reappear.

He'll likely get other offers, but with Houston so thin right now in the frontcourt, don't be surprised if the Rockets make a pitch to bring him back as well.


If you haven't figured it out already, the Rockets are in dire need of some help at both the power forward and center positions. Guys like Michael Beasley and Sam Dekker could pitch in to help at forward, but neither are naturals at the four.

The team drafted two big men in last night's draft, taking undersized center Chinanu Onuaku from Louisville and forward/center Zhou Qi out of China. Both players have the potential to contribute in the future, but for now, both are also very raw and unlikely to see significant time in their first season (if any at all, especially in Qi's case, he's probably an overseas stash), which means the team will also be looking to free agency and/or trade to beef up the front line.

Al Horford, Ryan Anderson, Hassan Whiteside, Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson, Timofey Mozgov, Festus Ezeli, Greg Monroe, Andrew Bogut, Gorgui Dieng and Zach Randolph are all potentially available free agent names (restricted or unrestricted) in the offseason, and the Rockets will need to add something if they hope to not only compete but also improve next year.

Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor are both said to be on the trading block, and the Rockets have already made an unsuccessful offer for Noel's services. Might we see the price drop as we get closer to the season?

Ultimately, the Rockets are better off without Dwight Howard. His moping and sulking had a serious effect on team chemistry, and his unwillingness to do what was asked of him at the center position was one of the main culprits in the Houston slide this year. But there's also no denying that with D-12 no longer on the roster, the Rockets find themselves in a precarious state with their front line.

What they do to fix that is one of the "need-to-watch" story lines of the Houston offseason.