ORLANDO — Kevin McHale isn’t throwing down the gauntlet to LeBron James and the Heat just yet.
But now that he has Dwight Howard in his arsenal, the Rockets coach believes his team won’t have to back down from anyone in the NBA next season.
“We’ll see,” McHale said of pairing up Howard with James Harden in the Houston lineup. “I’m just looking forward to putting this team together, and then we can play with anybody.”
McHale sat slumped in a chair on along the baseline to watch a team of Rockets prospects and young veterans beat the Sixers in the Orlando Pro Summer League on Sunday.
The Rockets won the sweepstakes for the seven-time All-Star center when Howard chose their four-year, $88-million free agent offer — which includes an opt-out clause after the third season — over bids from the Lakers, Mavericks, Warriors and Hawks.
According to their Hall of Fame coach, there is virtually no reason that Howard would even want to think about leaving Houston after all the big things the Rockets could accomplish in the near future. His team may have finished No. 8 in the playoff seeding last season, but McHale thinks his Rockets are now right in the mix at the top of the Western Conference based on what Howard can deliver.
“I think it’s a great situation for our young guys and our team,” McHale said. “I’m excited.
“When he’s physically right, (Howard) goes out there and dominates the game in a lot of ways. He’s a unique guy. He can score 10 points and totally dominate the game. There’s only a few players in the NBA who can do that. He can get 10 points, hold down the paint, block six or seven shots, get 20 rebounds, roll hard.
“He can get people shots without touching the ball because he rolls so hard and is such a target that everyone clamps in and the perimeter guys make shots. He’s going to add a great deal. James loves to pass and loves to drive and kick. We move the ball pretty well as a team and he should fit in pretty well with us.
“His ability to control the paint on the board and in the defensive end is going to create a lot of (fast) breaks for us.”
Through one turbulent season with the Lakers while recovering from back surgery and then incurring a shoulder injury, Howard still averaged 17.1 points, 12.4 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in 76 games. But he has told McHale that he’s now feeling fit again.
“You’re a finished product the day you retire,” McHale said. “Up until then you’re always doing something. In the NBA you are always evolving and changing. I think Dwight is in the process of evolving and changing.
“He says he feels way better and healthier now than he has been. His back is healthy. I just anticipate him coming in and being the most dominant center in the league.
McHale said he was never worried when word began to leak out that Howard might be having second thoughts about deciding to sign with the Rockets on Friday evening.
“When Dwight was flying from Colorado there was all of this about it being 50/50, and he was a little upset,” McHale recalled. “He said, ‘I didn’t change my mind.’ I had a pretty good feeling. We’re just looking forward to getting going and working with him.”