HANG TIME, Texas — When the Rockets sit down for dinner tonight in Los Angeles to begin the official courtship of Dwight Howard, the menu will include an appetizer plate full of history — but also a main course of red meat that is playing for future championships.
The Rockets contingent — led by team owner Leslie Alexander, general manager Daryl Morey and coach Kevin McHale — will include the Hall of Fame pairing of Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler as links to the past, along with current players James Harden and Chandler Parsons.
While Olajuwon and Drexler can show off their gaudy jewelry won nearly two decades ago and make a pitch based on emotion and their love for the city of Houston, it is Harden and Parsons who should turn Howard’s head with the potential for getting his own championship ring.
That the Rockets are getting the first crack at Howard may or may not be significant in the outcome. But the truth is this should not even be a close decision for Howard if, as those around him say, it is strictly about basketball and which team holds the best chance to get him back to The Finals fastest. It is the Rockets with a 23-year-old All-Star in Harden, a dynamic 24-year-old running mate in Parsons and enough salary cap space and flexibility with contracts and trade exceptions to fill in any holes in the roster. Toss in Omer Asik as Howard’s backup and Jeremy Lin as an open-court starter to the fast break and pick-and-roll dealer and the Rockets would clearly vault to the upper echelon of the Western Conference immediately.
The real ace in the hole, it would seem, is Howard getting a chance to work on an everyday basis with McHale, perhaps the greatest low-post player in the history of the game. More than an occasional workout with Olajuwon — who played a completely different style — McHale could show Howard the way to take the next step up as an elite center.
Yes, the Lakers have a couple of All-Stars of their own, but 34-year-old Kobe Bryant is trying to come back from a torn Achilles’ tendon and soon-to-be-33-year-old Pau Gasol was never a comfortable fit together in the front court last season. The rest of the Lakers roster was old and slow and simply not good enough to get any further than the first round of the playoffs, and little is going to change next season.
The Warriors will get their chance to sit down at the table with Howard and there will always be the appeal of playing before the most loyal, dedicated and rabid fans in the NBA. But to fully take advantage of the low post tools that Howard possesses would mean Golden State giving up much of the helter-skelter style and pace that Mark Jackson used to get his team into the playoffs and onto the second round.
The Mavericks will tell Howard that Dirk Nowitzki is willing to give up his position as the main cog in the offense to accommodate him. However those two alone are not enough to make Dallas a contender, and that leaves the big man hoping that a deal could be made to bring in a talented point guard such as Rajon Rondo to run the show. Yet that is all just hope and hype to go with the promise that club owner Mark Cuban will make Howard the centerpiece of the franchise down the line and include him in all personnel decisions.
If it is strictly about basketball and winning championships, why would Howard return to a Lakers model that already failed and might take a step back Bryant’s health, a Warriors team that doesn’t play to his strengths or the Mavericks’ promise of building a team?
The basic parts are already in Houston and they’ll be sitting at with Howard tonight when menus are passed out. The history that Olajuwon and Drexler bring will be tasty, but it’s the red meat of Harden and Parsons that should fill up his plate.