How Dwight Howard's Tenure in Houston Should Be Remembered

By Jorge Flores on July 5, 2016

The Houston Rockets (and the NBA in general) are facing a seismic shift thanks to the craziness that is NBA Free Agency. Free Agency is exciting because it can change the fortunes of a franchise as All-Star-caliber players may decide to take their talents elsewhere. In just the last few days, we’ve seen Kevin Durant join the already historic Warriors, Al Horford become the first big name to join the up-and-coming Celtics, and Dwyane Wade contemplate leaving Miami.

On July 5, 2013, the Rockets experienced a huge change in fortune when Dwight Howard decided to play alongside budding superstar James Harden in Houston. Signing Dwight was a major victory for the Rockets and General Manager Daryl Morey, whose philosophy for putting together a winning basketball team is based on star power. NBA history has proven that championship teams usually contain multiple stars, and Morey finally had a second star to play on an already pretty good squad. The championship aspirations were actually a possibility, and the Rockets’ immediate future was very bright.

Three tumultuous years later and Dwight has now agreed, as reported by Shams Charania of The Vertical to play for his hometown Atlanta Hawks on a three-year deal for $70 million. The Dwight Howard era in Houston is over, and it didn’t live up to the expectations and excitement that his signing conjured up.

Over the course of three seasons, Dwight played in 183 regular season games for the Rockets, averaging 16 points, 11.65 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game – modest numbers for a future Hall of Famer. However, he significantly stepped up his play in the Playoffs as he averaged 18 points, 14 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per game in addition to largely great defense.

The thing about Dwight Howard is that it almost doesn’t matter what he does on the court. People just don’t like him. From dominating the NBA with a smile early in his career (suggesting he doesn’t take basketball seriously) to the ‘Dwightmare’ seasons in Orlando and with the Los Angeles Lakers, Dwight’s reputation has been battered and bruised throughout his career.

Unfortunately, Dwight’s rocky relationship with Harden is probably what will be remembered most about his time in Houston. Howard and Harden were supposed to take the league by storm, as James would lead a pick-and-roll offense that would get open shots for teammates and alley-oops to Dwight, while ‘Superman’ could anchor a championship-level defense. That dream did not become a reality as Harden ultimately took control of an isolation offense, refusing to indulge Dwight’s post-up attempts (which weren’t effective). This led to Dwight being disengaged in games from time to time, and the ripple effect was disastrous for the chemistry of the entire team.

Perhaps the most revealing description of the duo’s relationship is told by’s Fran Blinebury:
Howard and Harden have been an oil-and-water mix since they came together for the 2012-13 season. It was only days after Damian Lillard's 3-point dagger eliminated them in the first round of their first playoff series together when both were sending out messages and maneuvering to get the other one traded.

Having superstars try to trade each other isn’t exactly what you would call a winning formula, but the fact that this was reported two years after it happened should be indicative that the ‘Dwightmare’ didn’t come to Houston. Howard went to work every day to win basketball games and improve his on-court relationship with Harden. He never let off-court drama bring any unnecessary distractions to the Rockets, which, ironically, is something that can be attributed to Harden.

Dwight Howard should be remembered in Houston for being a major contributing factor to the Rockets’ best season in two decades, winning 56 regular season games and making the Western Conference Finals in 2014-2015. He should be remembered for anchoring a great defense that season and for playing in that Western Conference Finals against the Warriors with a torn meniscus and MCL.

He should be remembered for carving up the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the 2015 Playoffs, emphatically finishing five fourth quarter lobs that best friend Josh Smith threw up. 

He should be remembered for Game 2 of the first round of the 2014 Playoffs, where he scored the Rockets first 13 points with an array of post-moves, dunks, and offensive rebounds that ignited Toyota Center. Poor Robin Lopez… 

He came to Houston because he saw an opportunity to win a championship, and he put his best effort forth. For once since the ‘Dwightmare’ of 2011, he wasn’t at fault for any major distractions. He just wanted to play basketball and help his team win. 

Dwight Howard walked into Houston with a smile and he should walk out to applause.

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