The NBA trade deadline has come and gone and, despite the Rockets taking calls from all around the league, Dwight Howard was not traded and will remain in Houston at least through the rest of this season. With clear chemistry problems on a team that made the Western Conference Finals last season and noise that its two superstars – Dwight and James Harden – aren’t exactly the best of friends, the Rockets were poised to change the makeup of this team. That didn’t happen at the trade deadline, but the Rockets will have some tough decisions to make going forward.
Dwight joined the Rockets in the summer of 2013, averaging 16.6 points and 11.7 rebounds in almost three seasons, and wants to stay with the team despite its current disappointments and inescapable trade talk. Prior to Thursday’s NBA trade deadline, he told members of the media…
‘No matter what’s being said, the only thing I can control is what I do on the floor. That’s been my only focus. I want to win. I want this situation to work. I chose this team. And I’m not running because we have been faced with some adversity’
Howard has been criticized with running away from adversity in the past, most notably after leaving the Los Angeles Lakers after just one season – a season filled with injury and a feud with Kobe Bryant. However, all that ‘Dwightmare’ stuff that has tarnished Howard’s reputation with NBA fans has been a distant memory in Houston. Despite rumblings that Howard and Harden don’t like playing together, Dwight has been very professional and is giving consistent effort on the floor in a season where it seems hardly anyone else on the team is doing so.
After a disheartening loss in Portland before the All-Star Break, Daryl Morey (General Manager of the Rockets) met with his two superstars to discuss moving forward in this disastrous season. It seems the result of that meeting was an understanding that the Rockets would potentially move on from Howard. ESPN’s Marc Stein reported that the Rockets engaged in trade talks with the Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Charlotte Hornets, Chicago Bulls, Dallas Mavericks, Miami Heat, and the Milwaukee Bucks, but a deal ultimately could not be reached. This is in large part due to the Rockets high asking price for the eight-time NBA All-Star – ‘a frontline player’ and a first-round pick.
The Rockets may have failed to pull off a trade at the deadline, but there are still moves to be made regarding Dwight. It’s expected that Dwight will opt out of the fourth year of his contract (he has a player option) in hopes of signing a max offer this summer. The Rockets will be able to offer Dwight a five-year, $170 million contract, but that seems unlikely given Howard’s age and injury history. In order to maintain salary cap flexibility going forward, it’s understandable that the Rockets may not want to pay a thirty-year-old center upwards of $30 million per year until he’s thirty-five. That said, it’s conceivable that a team would offer him a four-year max deal that would be worth approximately $130 million. Should Dwight Howard find a team that’s willing to pay him the max and play ball with the Rockets, he could be signed and traded – meaning the Rockets would receive assets in return for losing Dwight.
Ideally, the Rockets would figure out a way to make this team work because there is just so much talent on the roster. Prior to the Rockets first game after the All-Star break on Friday, head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said that he ‘feel[s] like a run is coming’ in the last 27 games of this season. Rockets management would certainly love a run to propel the team into the Playoffs and hopefully improve any chemistry issues.
If Dwight Howard and James Harden can make it work, then there’s a chance Dwight would opt into the fourth year of his contract or at least be willing to sign a ‘team-friendly’ deal for less than the maximum offer. The Rockets have plans of luring another max-level superstar (i.e. Kevin Durant) to Houston and building a championship contender amidst a league that will have much more money to throw around. Getting multiple superstars on the same team in the NBA is very difficult, and Rockets management will be wary of that when dealing with Dwight’s contract situation this summer.