Free agency in the National Basketball Association has gotten off to a roaring start just one week into the summer madness. A few big names changed teams and a few stayed close to home. But obviously the biggest fish in the market was snagged on July 5 with reports surfacing around mid-afternoon. The Houston Rockets got their man. After a nearly three-year circus surrounding the future of all-star center Dwight Howard, “Superman” has finally landed in Houston with the services of all-star guard James Harden and rising prospect Chandler Parsons at his side. Is Houston ready for takeoff? Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO Sports Desk debate the question.
Riley: I’ve mentioned this before live on-air and I’ll reference it again: When Dwight Howard is one of your top two players, your team won’t win. I have nothing against Howard or what’s grown into a regular headache circling around his behavior and waffling, but his offensive game still isn’t where it needs to be to power a team to a championship. Making the NBA Finals a few seasons ago as a member of the Orlando Magic had more to do with a bevy of shooters and an out-of-body playoff performance from the former hot-shooting forward Hedo Turkoglu than it did Howard. The big man did score 40 points in a closeout Game 6 that summer against the heavily favored Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James but once Orlando took to the big stage against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Finals, Howard’s offensive repertoire, or lack thereof, really took center stage. Sadly, he’s still the same offensive player that he was five years ago and that won’t be good enough in what’s now a tougher Western conference.
Green: Howard and Harden together should make magic whether it’s on the pick and roll or whether it’s just Howard cleaning the glass for put-backs. This Houston team is basically the same team Howard had in Orlando except for a dominant and dynamite wing in “the Beard” Harden. We don’t know if current center Omer Asik will be traded but those two defensive towers together, should Asik stick around, would be a steel fortress. We keep hearing about Harden and Parsons but what Asik did last year from a defensive and rebounding perspective was simply impressive as he averaged 11 rebounds per game. An aggressive shooting guard combined with two legitimate big men in the paint proved to be a working formula for the Lakers for a few seasons. I don’t see why it couldn’t work in Houston.
Riley: The formula wouldn’t work in Houston because both of those seven-footers in L.A., Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, had skilled post moves and Gasol had the ability to hit jumpers from far out, opening up space for Bynum and Kobe Bryant to operate. I like what Golden State did in acquiring veteran forward Andre Iguodala. That was a power move and if their big men David Lee and Andrew Bogut come back healthy next season then you have to pencil in the Warriors for a top-two team next year. And don’t forget about Oklahoma City or San Antonio. I just can’t get into Howard’s offense. We praise him as this dominating center but when the postseason comes around, he’s just a 20 points-per-game scorer, which has never been enough for a title and won’t be unless he improves. Maybe Kevin McHale or Hakeem Olajuwon can teach him some tricks but at age 28 as of this December, when is he going to learn those tricks?
Green: In Howard’s last few playoff series he’s averaged 17 and 10, 27 and 15 and 18 and 11 with just over two blocks per game in his last three postseasons. I say that’s enough to get it done in today’s age where perimeter players are the ones pushing teams to titles. Look, I agree with you on the premise that Howard will never be an elite scorer. I don’t think he has the skills or mentality to become a great offensive player. But he doesn’t need to be one in Houston. A team may not be able to win a ring if Howard is one of their top two scorers but that won’t be the case with the Rockets. Houston knows its money player is Harden and I expect Howard to understand that and fall off his demand for the basketball in critical situations. All Howard needs to do is rebound and protect the rim on defense, and he can do both very well. If he does that and allows the shooters around him to do their thing, Houston will prosper.