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Top 10 Rockets “Could Have Beens”: #3 - Dwight Howard

How did the “greatest free agent acquisition” in Rockets history flounder?

Houston Rockets Introduce Dwight Howard Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

The happiest day of the Dwight Howard era in Houston might have been the first one — July 5, 2013 — the day he signed with the Rockets.

D12 signed with Houston for four year max contract with an option after the third year and vaulted Houston from “rising team” in the West to a legitimate contender to challenge the likes of Oklahoma City and San Antonio.

Team owner Leslie Alexander was very enthusiastic about the Howard signing, one year after the All-Star center was traded from the Magic to the Lakers.

The Rockets were forming one of the best potential pick-and-roll combos in the league with Howard and James Harden, acquired the season before.

The team saw immediate results in Year 1 of the Howard era. He scored 18.3 points per game and grabbed 12.2 rebounds per game. He was also named to his eighth consecutive All-Star team as the Rockets went from the eighth seed up to the fourth and saw a nine-win improvement.

Dwight averaged 26 PPG in the playoff series against the Blazers, but lost in six games. Although it was a frustrating defeat in a series in which the Rockets were favored, the Harden-Howard pair looked to just be scratching the surface.

The following season saw Dwight only play 41 games due to a back injury, but despite Howard’s absence, the team continued to maintain a high level of play. The team won 56 games and claimed the second seed in the Western Conference. Howard was healthy back in time for the playoffs and was huge on defense as he averaged 2.3 blocks per game.

The most memorable highlight from Howard’s playoff run came in Game 2 of the first round when he and his former AAU teammate Josh Smith were clicking like never before.

The team did get past the Mavericks in five games and the Clippers in seven, but failed to get past the eventual NBA champion Warriors, who won in five games.

This was the apex of Howard’s career in Houston. He helped bring the team to new heights, higher than the franchise had seen since the late ‘90s, but it went completely downhill after that.

As the 2015-16 rolled along, rumors of Howard’s unhappiness and conflict with James Harden dominated the team’s headlines as the team’s success began to plummet. All across the board, the team underwhelmed in 2015-16 and the team finished 41-41 and ended as the Western Conference’s eighth seed.

After the team’s disappointing third season, D12 wanted more opportunities to be the main man in the offense and he jetted off to the Hawks, signing a three-year deal.

In the three years since he left Houston, Howard has played for three teams: Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets and now, the Washington Wizards.

I believe it is a testament that ever since Dwight left the Rockets, he has drowned into a state of uncertainty and is just a lonesome center looking for a home again.

Orlando was and always will be Dwight’s first home as it was the place that made him a superstar, a highly sought after trade target for the Lakers, and a high-profile free agent signing for the Rockets.

Houston was the last stop in Dwight’s career that somewhat closely resembled the home that he once had in central Florida. However, what D12 failed to do was adapt. He could have been the free agent that lived up to the expectations placed upon him in 2013, but he could not accept the role of second fiddle to James Harden, the superior player.

Had he learned how to properly play alongside Harden, maybe he helps the Rockets truck along past the Conference Finals and towards a championship. However, his ego got in the way and ultimately made himself expendable.