Before Dwight Howard attempts to rise like a phoenix from the ashes of the destruction of his career in L.A., let's take a look at what happened from Sunday night to Friday evening, through the mind of a Rockets fan- mine.
Sunday, 12 AM ET
Dwight Howard meets with members of the Houston Rockets organization: owner Leslie Alexander, general manager Daryl Morey, head coach Kevin McHale, active players James Harden, Chandler Parsons, former greats Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler and Yao Ming (via Skype).
The meeting reportedly goes very well. Hakeem references his and Howard's time spent over the summers working on his post game saying very few words. James and Chandler chime in and preach the youth movement that Dwight could be a part of in Clutch City. Alexander and Morey both put it in Howard's head how bent they are in delivering a third Larry O'Brien trophy to Houston. McHale also reminds Howard of the work he can put in with him to become even better in the post.
Dwight leaves the meeting wined and dined, both physically and mentally. Houston's presentation centered around referencing their former winnings ways and big man greats while peering into the not-so-distant future and potential championships with the Rockets' young core.
Biggest question: Could Harden and Howard be the next great power duo?
Over the next two days, Howard continued his tour, setting up meetings with the Warriors, Mavericks, Hawks and last but not least- the Lakers. Each meeting was said to have gone well (like they would have admitted otherwise), and each day news outlets covered Howard's frame of mind and who was in the lead like it was the Presidential Election.
The Warriors were said to have a very slim chance due to the movement of multiple contracts to help free up the cap room to afford the polarizing center. Harrison Barnes and Klay Thompson were mentioned as trade bait originally, then later reports surfaced that said Curry could potentially be involved in a sign and trade.
Biggest question: What would be the point of going to Golden State without one of the NBA's newest stars in Curry?
The Mavericks, like the Rockets, had been pursuing the big man from Atlanta for two seasons. They could not swing any trades last offseason for Howard, and had a slim chance in 2013 to bring D12 to Dallas.
Owner Mark Cuban's passion was there, but the logistics were not. They relied too much on setting up to win a season or two from now, not right away.
Biggest question: Why go play with another aging veteran superstar past his prime?
The Atlanta Hawks are Howard's hometown team. The prodigal son returning to save a franchise was to be the main storyline. That was about it, unless you count the CP3 to he ATL rumors at one point. Those were quickly snuffed out once former Celtics coach Doc Rivers was traded to the Clippers for a pack of chewable Gatorades- or something. Also, re-uniting with former childhood friend Josh Smith was on the table- sort of.
Biggest question: Could Dwight and CP3 challenge the Heat in the Southeastern Division?
Finally, after hearing all the other pitches, Howard met with the incumbent Lakers last- out of respect. He sat down for a couple hours as Nash and Kobe tried to sell him on finishing what they started (which was what, exactly?). Kobe told Dwight he could teach him the ways of a champion and how he could become and all-time great in LA. Wax on, wax off and all that jazz. This approach reportedly turned Howard off, as he most likely felt there was not much more Bryant could teach him. Head coach Mike D'Antoni sat in on the meeting- and didn't say a word to Howard. You think if you were trying to keep a player, you'd you know, TALK TO HIM....or something. Also in on the meeting was GM Mitch Kupchak and Times Warner execs to sell Dwight on a TV deal of some sort. Just what Howard needs to focus on winning- a TV show.
Nash told reporters afterwards it went well. (Shocker). Kobe played it just like a honey badger. He was not there to beg for Howard to come back. He implied that you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink it. The decision was Dwight's, and Dwight's alone.
Biggest question: Could Dwight make up for last season and become a Laker great?
After all the meetings were had, the 28 year-old center took himself off the grid for a few days, with murmurs of decisions being made and the likely timetable of his informing everyone of his decision. Howard (like his decision) was up in the air- literally. Howard was up in the mountains of Aspen, Colorado. This brought only one image to my head:
It was reported on Thursday that Dwight had made a decision and would announce it sometime over the weekend.
Then, on Friday afternoon- news began breaking like an avalanche. First, the Hawks were informed they had not received a golden ticket. Then, the Dallas Mavericks had their dreams dashed. It was down to three teams: The Warriors, Rockets and Lakers.
The biggest question: Who would Dwight give his dandelion to on this episode of The Unrestricted Free Agent?
This is where things began to take an interesting turn, where the darkhorse came on strong rounding the last turn of the race. The Warriors began wheeling and dealing, making moves without any assurance D12 had chosen them. As Ric Bucher reported via Twitter, "The Warriors are operating without a net." They signed the former Nugget Andre Iguodala to a four year, forty-eight million dollar deal. This either put them out of the running for Howard, or gave Dwight a running buddy after any potential trade dust had cleared. News of any franchise being told they were not D12's choice had yet to reach the final three.
Some time later, the Warriors learned they were not the landing spot for the league's most enigmatic center. It was either the frontrunning, youth-oriented Rockets, or the showtime, perennial super-star filled Lakers.
The biggest question: Could Dwight be the first Laker star in his prime to shun Tinseltown and all its glory?
Around 5:30 p.m., I left work. At the same time, coincidentally I received a message from a friend of mine. It simply read, "Excited?"
My first thought was "Of course. I'm off work and it's Friday." My second thought was- "D12 really chose Houston?"
I scrambled to check ESPN, Bleacher Report and Twitter. The unofficial decision was in: Dwight was a Houston Rocket. Somewhere in Los Angeles, Lakers fans wanted a recount. Sportscenter began drowning in Dwight coverage. Pundits chimed in with their two cents. My friends began tweeting me, texting me and Facebook messaging me. It all seemed too good to be true. I mean after all, this is Dwight Howard.
The most curious thing of all is that it was only reports that had Howard headed to Houston. Dwight himself never once confirmed his decision. I was fairly confident, yet uncertain that Howard was a Rocket. After all, my life's story can be summed up in four words: "egg on my face". I decided to venture out and do that whole "having a life" thing.
At about 10:30, I received a tweet from a friend and also saw a Bleacher Report alert: "Howard 50/50 on decision to leave the Lakers." Soon after, another text followed. It simply read, "Not good." Howard was on a plane headed for LA to meet with Lakers brass.
Then as I saw these alerts at a stoplight, to compound my newest stress, my car began making funny noises. The engine's temperature was at it's max, and it was making what could only be described as "ungodly" noises. I felt just like that swat guy in The Dark Knight as he witnesses the Joker's men destroy the police chopper:
"Not good, OK that's NOT good!"
I sat and waited for almost two hours for the tow truck, constantly refreshing my Twitter to get the latest. Eventually it was reported that Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak informed the media that Dwight told him he was going to Houston. Multiple others confirmed this, and it was even more official once D12 changed his Twitter avatar to one with a Rockets' jersey and location of "Houston,TX".
Turns out Howard had planned to make that flight from Aspen to LA the whole time to inform the Lakers of his decision. He told Stephen A Smith later that he "was disgusted on reports that he was waivering or flip flopping between his initial decision".
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?The Los Angeles Lakers look to be in full on rebuilding mode. With a core of Nash, Gasol, World Peace and an injured Kobe Bryant along with little to no young talent, the Lakers will struggle in 2013-2014. Bryant's return is still unknown while he recovers from a torn achilles at age 35. The organization will aim to procure a great young player in 2014's stacked draft class as well as try and sign a premiere free agent. Early targets mentioned have been LeBron and Carmelo Anthony. But then again, who wouldn't try for them if they had the cap space?
In regards to the Rockets, once confirmed, speculation of how Howard would mesh in Houston followed. Where did this put the Rockets in regards to the Western Conference's elite? Should they be considered elite? What is a realistic expectation for this team?
To which I answer in one fell swoop: Hold your damn horses.
Daryl Morey has yet to finish making moves this summer. Omer Asik is reportedly unhappy about the arrival of Howard and refuses to play with or behind the big man from LA. He will likely be moved unless Houston can convince him it will work with Dwight and him on the court together.
Point guard Jeremy Lin is also being shopped aggressively by Houston in an effort to procure a third star. (Some argue small forward Chandler Parsons is not a star just yet, which I beg to differ.) The Josh Smith to Houston rumors died off as he was signed to a four year, fifty-six million dollar deal by the Detroit Pistons on Saturday. My darkhorse candidate, former Rocket PF Carl Landry, signed with the Kings on Saturday as well. This continues the search for a solid PF in Clutch City.
Oklahoma City will be fully healthy heading into next season and should be the favored Western Conference team as #1. The Spurs cannot be counted out. After that, it'll be a scrum between the Clippers, Grizzlies and Rockets for number 3. I am no soothsayer but at this time, this seems like a logical way of thinking.
Just like the Miami Heat in 2010, the Rockets seem to be the offseason champs- which means exactly nothing when it is all said and done. Being in the discussion is great, but being in the Finals and winning them is better. Yes, you got your man in Dwight Howard. But like the Heat showed in 2010, it takes time to gel. As the Lakers showed last season, players may never gel together whether because of coaches, playing styles or injuries.
Give the Rockets time and they will be more rounded out come October. Then the games are played on the court and not on paper.
Like it? Love it? Hate it? Contact me on Twitter @SeanNeutron