Dwight Howard’s divorce from the Los Angeles Lakers was made official Wednesday, and the seven-footer has already found a new spouse in the Houston Rockets.
Howard has agreed to a four-year deal worth $88 million to team up with Houston’s young, emerging squad that now has to be considered title contenders next season. Howard's ability to assimilate to the Houston offense and develop chemistry with point guard Jeremy Lin could be a deciding factor in the Rockets' title hopes.
During his previous nine years in the NBA, Howard has shown how effective he can be when working with pass-first point guards.
While he did average 17.1 points and led the league with 12.4 rebounds a game, the 27-year-old center had a difficult season in Los Angeles. But he started to thrive once veteran point man Steve Nash returned from injury. Howard’s best all-around month as a Laker was when Nash was fully ensconced in the lineup. To close the season in April, Howard averaged 20.9 points on 61 percent shooting, along 10.5 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game with Nash at the helm.
Maybe Howard had finally acclimated himself to head coach Mike D’Antoni’s pick-and-roll heavy offense, but it was Nash’s consistent presence that helped Howard flourish late.
In his eight years with the Orlando Magic, Howard and point guard Jameer Nelson led the club to the NBA Finals in 2009. To date Nelson is the only floor leader to allow Howard to consistently grow on both sides of the court. In four of Howard’s last five years in Orlando, he averaged 20-plus points and shot at least 57 percent from the field.
His experiences with Nash and Nelson should give Howard plenty of reason to quickly form an alliance with Lin.
Lin has already proven he can play with talented big men after successful partnerships with center Omer Asik last season, and with Amar’e Stoudemire in his incredible breakout year with the New York Knicks in 2011-2012.
Last season, Lin averaged 13.4 points and 6.1 assists and helped Asik transition from role player off the bench, to a double-double and rebound machine. Asik started all 82 games and compiled 10.1 points and 11.7 boards a game, after he spent two years coming off the bench in Chicago.
Back in New York, Lin played in 22 games with power forward Amar’e Stoudemire in the pick-and-roll heavy offense run by D’Antoni. Stoudemire was already struggling with sharing the ball with Carmelo Anthony, but he rediscovered his place in the offense with Lin, averaging 16.8 points and 7.6 rebounds.
Lin also padded his credentials with Houston’s impressive showing last season. Houston had the No. 2 scoring offense in the league, averaging 106 points a game under head coach Kevin McHale. The Rockets were also in the top 10 in rebounds and assists per game, with their only drawbacks coming on the defensive end where they surrendered 102.5 points a contest.
A three-time Defensive Player of the Year, Howard's presence alone will help Houston on defense, but he could also make the Rockets offense even more potent. With Howard in the post, Harden will see less double teams and some pressure will be off Lin if he happens to let a guard blow by him into the lane.
The Rockets aren’t being crowned champs right away, especially with the veteran core of the San Antonio Spurs returning, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant leading the Oklahoma City Thunder, and the Los Angeles Clippers coming up as big winners via free agency. Should the Rockets find their way to the Finals, they will likely meet a Chicago Bulls squad that is expected to improve with the return of Derrick Rose, or the defending back-to-back champion Miami Heat.
But with Howard, Harden, Lin, Asik, and Chandler Parsons, the future looks bright in Houston.