Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Houston Is Ready For Takeoff!

Well as hard as it may seem to believe, the Dwightmare or The Indecision as some would like to call it, is finally over. Dwight Howard finally made a decision on his future residence based purely on basketball. Granted, he could've gotten to this point a few years ago had he not signed an extension while in Orlando & he might've actually gone to the team he originally said he wanted to play for, the Brooklyn Nets. But alas, it wasn't to be so a few years later, here we are finally.

I will admit to being one of the many people who accused him of being a flip-flopper & indecisive decision maker. He seemed to focus too much on trying to make everyone happy. But as we all know, you can't make everyone happy all the time. Unfortunately for Dwight he found this out a few years too late. Not too late for his career, but too late to avoid a public relations nightmare. Which brings us to the Dwightmare.

When LeBron James declared his free agency decision with, "I'll be taking my talents to South Beach" on national TV, the fire storm that ensued turned him from being one of the most beloved NBA players, to one of the most vilified, virtually overnight. It seemed like Howard was taking note to how quickly people turned on LeBron. However, he made the mistake of thinking he could make too many people happy instead of focusing on what was best for himself & his career. It sounds selfish but ultimately it is his career & his life, not the fans' or even the organization's. You can take multiple factors into consideration but the most important one is, "where do I want to spend my career?"

Fans only care about their team for the most part. Most fans don't think about the personal aspect of a player's decisions. If you look beyond all the glitz & glamour of playing professional basketball, there is a human aspect that has to be accounted for. Guys have families & especially children that are uprooted or left behind. There are certain comforts that a player develops playing & living somewhere for a stretch of time. Now Howard's time in LA was obviously a short one but he still had personal life choices to take into consideration when making such a huge decision. His child-like behavior at times is viewed by many, myself included, as a sign of immaturity. Some of that immaturity has been seen in the way he made his decisions as well as the choices he made.

So Dwight Howard may have made some missteps over the past few years before getting to the point where he finally decided to join the Houston Rockets. His journey to the Lakers wasn't his first choice but when he re-upped in Orlando he essentially made the mistake of cutting off paths to other more desirable destinations for himself. But when you put aside all of the talk about his maturity, his relationships with both Kobe Bryant & Mike D'Antoni & his alleged habit for flip-flopping, what you ultimately have is a basketball player who when given the opportunity to decide where he wanted to play, made a wise, well thought out decision.

If you take a look at his options solely from a basketball stand point, in my opinion, he made not only the right move but the only logical one. The only other team besides Houston that was able to offer a current winning environment with a bright future was the Golden State Warriors. With young talented players like Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes & head coach Marc Jackson, they did offer him an excellent chance to win immediately while also potentially getting even better over the next few years. Problem there was, they had no cap space, so in order for it to work they would've had to move a number of players or do a sign & trade with the Lakers, which would've meant losing at least one of those young desirable pieces. The Dallas Mavericks, Atlanta Hawks & Los Angeles Lakers could not offer him that type of situation. As I stated in a previous post about his impending situation (see: What To Do With Dwight Howard? ) the Rockets had a little bit of every attribute a player like Howard should have been looking for.

When you list all of the things the Rockets could offer him it was a no-brainer. They have a young stud in James Harden while the only other team that could say that was the Warriors with Curry. Kobe is still a stud but young is one thing you can't say about him any longer. The Rockets do have a rich tradition of winning that goes back many decades & only the Lakers can exceed them in that category. Even the Mavericks winning is a much more recent occurrence. Prior to winning the title a few years ago, they had had a run of embarrassing playoff losses. The Rockets have a head coach in Kevin McHale who was one of the greatest low post players in NBA history & none of the other teams can say that. They also have a legacy of dominant centers in their team's history with guys like Elvin Hayes, Moses Malone, Ralph Sampson, Hakeem Olajuwon & Yao Ming. It doesn't hurt that Olajuwon still resides in the Houston area & from what I hear, as a part of their free agency pitch to Howard, Hakeem vowed to work with him even more on his low post game. One other thing to keep in mind, last year in LA showed, Howard's jovial personality is probably much better suited for a younger team. His laughing & joking can rub some vets the wrong way. I'm not saying I know for certain that it did, but it's a fairly obvious assumption to make.

All of those reasons are legitimate & completely validate his decision. As great a player as Kobe Bryant has been in his career, even he has said he has about 3 years left in him. After that there is no telling what that team will look like. Kobe also doesn't have the personality that will allow him to take a backseat to someone like Howard while he's still there. Harden just had his break out season, & there was a heavy burden on him to carry that team. Howard takes a tremendous amount of pressure off of him so it's logical to think that he won't mind deferring to Howard more than Kobe did or would going forward. The Lakers are Kobe's team until he leaves. The Rockets just became Harden's team so it should less of an issue for him since Howard is the more accomplished superstar at this point in their careers.

Now, if you're Dwight Howard why should you be made to wait a few more years for Kobe to retire & possibly end up in a situation similar to the one you just left in Orlando? I tell people all the time, you can't build a team on hope. For Howard, the Lakers pitch was more about the hope that they make the right moves going forward. The Rockets will have more tinkering to do while the Lakers will have some major moves to make. Plus, when you look at the Lakers recent history, there's evidence that shows they haven't been making the right decisions as of late. The hiring & firing of Mike Brown & replacing him with Mike D'Antoni, a guy who's system doesn't compliment Howard's skill set.

Players nowadays though are more savvy than they used to be when it comes to these types of situations, especially in the NBA. You're starting to see more & more guys making decisions based largely on the opportunity to win. Of course money is a factor, but enough can't be said about a guy walking away from millions of dollars to go someplace where he feels he can win. LeBron & Dwyane Wade were the two biggest name to do it & now Dwight Howard has done it. He will still make millions of dollars to play in Houston, especially since there's no state income tax, but the certainty of an extra year that the Lakers could've offered still wasn't enough to bring him back. Nor was the allure of playing in Los Angeles for one of the NBA's winningest franchises.

Had he chosen to return to LA, what about that team would make him or anyone think they were going to compete next year for a championship? Kobe is returning from a torn achilles, Steve Nash is a year older & Mike D'Antoni is still the head coach. Sure they both could somehow find the fountain of youth & maybe D'Antoni tweaks his system to cater to Howard's strengths but again, that's all hope. If they had signed him, they still would've needed to make some other tough decisions on guys like Pau Gasol, Metta World Peace & even a guy like Earl Clark, who played well for them down the stretch. There are far fewer uncertainties in Houston.

Going back to LeBron James' handling of The Decision compared to Howard's. He did something that must be lauded. While James informed all of the teams that had been chasing him, including the Cavaliers, via The Decision, according to reports, Howard himself, not his agent or his handlers called each team's GM to personally inform them that he wasn't joining their team, except for the Hawks as one of his reps called them. Honestly though, I don't think anyone, including the Hawks thought he was going there. Then he jumped on a plane from Colorado where he was holed up while contemplating his decision, flew back to LA to meet with Lakers' GM Mitch Kupchak. Unfortunately, the story had already broken about his decision so he called Kupchak & informed him. All of this before he even formally told the Rockets he was choosing them. He didn't call a press conference, he didn't host a TV special about his choice, he just proceeded to conduct himself in the most professional manner possible. He finally announced it via Twitter that he was choosing the Rockets. For that, people must respect him.

How he handles himself moving forward remains to be seen but if the choice he made & the manner in which he conducted himself are any indication, perhaps he has learned his lesson & will become a more focused player. He will always have his critics, especially in La-La Land as evidenced by both Shaquille O'Neal & Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's comments about him,. In Houston however he doesn't have to be a savior. He can be Dwight Howard & play his game. Of all the criticism he's received, Abdul-Jabbar probably had the most accurate of them all when he said, "we (the Lakers) played them in '09 (NBA Finals), & when I saw him this past season, he was the same player." Ouch. Stinging criticism but still accurate. He's at that point in his career where there's no more excuses, he got what he wanted & he's where he chose to be. He's surrounded by teammates & an organization that are fully invested in his success & it's up to him to make the most of it. Will they win a championship? Only time will tell but if they way he chose to make his decision is any indication, he's off to a great start.