At the 2016 NBA trade deadline, the Houston Rockets and Dwight Howard were ready to break-up. In the third year of their tumultuous relationship, it seemed things were about to reach breaking point. The Rockets were -- and finally did finish -- at around .500, had major locker room issues, had fired their coach and the only decision left was whether they should start disassembling the core that made it to the Western Conference Finals back in 2015.
It's an interesting issue that I'm sure, Daryl Morey thought about for months on end, following the Rockets' poor start to the season and the subsequent dismissal of Kevin McHale. As we should all know, he's an statistics and analytics man. As we have seen by one of his disciples, Sam Hinkie in Philadelphia, a guy like Morey tends to believe in the NBA's no man's land. A zone where you aren't good enough to be a contender, but aren't bad enough to bottom out and head towards the lottery. It's where the Atlanta Hawks have been for about the last decade.
So, if his squad was performing at a mediocre level -- which they were -- it makes complete sense that he would want to at least restructure the team a little bit, where it would be doing this to go towards the contender level, or the lottery. Especially when you add in that Howard has an option to leave this Summer and it is widely anticipated that he will opt out of his player option, to test free agency and the new, expanded cap.
To add to this, the locker room issues that I touched on earlier, may be the fruit of the seeds laid by Dwight. As shown in his weird, way too deep interview on Inside The NBA, in which Charles Barkley basically told him to lie down on a therapist's couch, Howard's personality doesn't rub off very well on other people. He is widely disliked by the public, is widely known as childish (his 2012 Dwightmare didn't help that too much in that regard) and is seemingly never content with his role. So it doesn't seem all too unlikely that Howard has caused the chemistry issues in Houston.
Without even mentioning that the Rockets are grooming a youngster, in Clint Capela, to take the starting reigns, the Rockets are ready to move on with Dwight Howard.
Of course, since Howard has a player option, Dwight does have to opt out. I believe, that he almost certainly, will attempt to hightail it out of Houston at any cost. He might leave some money at the table in the short term, but he has the option of getting one of his last long-term deals of his career by opting out. Plus, just judging by what Dwight's like, he's unhappy. Think about it, Howard is one of those guys that is constantly being called out for slacking off and looking disinterested. But he has a right to do this. The Rockets' offense is so one dimensional in the way that they run it, that Dwight is reduced to being solely a rim-runner. All he does these days is jog up and down the court, grab the occasional rebound, block a couple of shots and throw down a dunk every now and then. When he was at peak performance and happiness, Dwight was doing all of that and was the center of attention on offense. Stan Van used to use him a lot more in the post and have him involved in endless pick and roll. Both of which, he has seen less and less of as his career has worn on.
There is almost no doubt in my mind, that someone like Dwight, who holds himself to an incredibly high standard, wants to be that center of attention again, or at least have a bigger role than he did in Houston. The problem for D12 is that, if there is a team willing to give him the required money and role to come on board during free agency. Even if there is, as we've seen from Dwight's Orlando days, they probably have to be a reasonably big city or a title contender in order for Howard to even consider them as a destination.
This complicates the issue even further. Not only does a team have to find a high enough role for 30 year old Dwight Howard, who doesn't have a seamless fit into the new age NBA and have to find enough cash to satisfy Howard's needs, but he needs to be willing to move to their market.
At the trade deadline, the main two teams rumored, were the Charlotte Hornets and Milwaukee Bucks. Both of whom are bottom 10 markets in the NBA. Given that Dwight left Orlando, largely because he wanted to leave the small pond of Orlando, him going to a small market doesn't seem to make much sense.
So which teams fit Dwight's needs of money, role, market size and even title contention? Well, the answer isn't going to be pretty for dear old Dwight, because as far as I can see, there are no teams that ticks all of those boxes (side note: if any readers mention my Boston Celtics as a destination, I will cry. We don't need a guy like that on our team).
If you push the boundaries a little bit, you could maybe consider the Washington Wizards and Dallas Mavericks as viable options. But neither of them provide the instant contender status that Dwight needs at his old age and with his decaying body. The Wizards have an interesting young core, but are yet to prove to anyone that they are ready to make the leap into the upper echelon of Eastern Conference teams. Plus, they already have a serviceable center in Marcin Gortat that is, at the moment, set in his place for the next couple of years. The Mavericks are old and although Dwight fits in their system quite well -- think what DeAndre would've done and what Zaza Pachulia did do for them and substitute Dwight -- that team isn't going to matchup with any of the elite teams out West.
The team that strikes me as most interesting, is a blast from the past: the Orlando Magic. Maybe the market size issue would be reduced, since he already has lived there before? Maybe he regrets leaving? Who knows. But even with a trip back to his place of NBA origin, there are flaws. Without any other significant free agent pickups, of which the Magic have been linked with plenty, this Magic team isn't in a good enough place to put 30 year old Dwight in a position to compete for a title. Plus, the Magic already have Nikola Vucevic and could be in the race to trade for DeMarcus Cousins, should he become available.
Long story short, the Dwight Howard situation might secretly be the most ineteresting of the whole offseason. He probably won't be returning to Houston and outside of H-Town, is there a fit for him? Hell, maybe the best fit for him is coming off the bench for a title contender or even heading overseas to China, where he could average Wilt Chamberlain-esque numbers.
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