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Rockets' GM deserves credit for Howard, Harden pairing

Staff Reporter

Published: Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Updated: Tuesday, July 9, 2013 00:07



Colin Harris

Malone. Sampson. Olajuwon. Yao. The list of marquee Rockets’ centers may have just grown by one. By spurning the seduction of Sunset Boulevard and whatever it was the Dallas Mavericks had to offer (a guest appearance on Shark Tank?) in order to join the Houston Rockets during the prime of his career, Dwight Howard is poised to join this group and hopefully cement his legacy by winning an NBA Championship.

For Rockets fans, this is a coup. For the past decade, free agency for the Rockets meant overpaying role players on contenders, like Trevor Ariza, or overpaying career underachievers, like the indelible Stromile Swift, with the hopes that increased usage or a change of scenery would turn them into stars.

Dwight Howard already is a star, and considering that he left $30 million on the table by rejecting the Lakers’ max offer, he’s not overpaid. His resume includes three defensive player of the year awards, seven All-Star selections, five All-NBA First Team nods and an Olympic gold medal. He’s led the league in blocks twice and rebounds five times, including last season. He donned a Superman cape and sort of dunked from the free throw line, winning the 2008 dunk contest. When properly motivated, he’s the best center in the NBA and the margin isn’t close. (Sorry, Marc Gasol.)
Now he’s a Houston Rocket and will team up with James Harden for at least the next three years as they try to bring another championship to Clutch City. Howard signed a four year, $88 million contract with a player option for the fourth year, which, because of the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement, was the most any team could offer him to leave Los Angeles.

The person who deserves the most credit for the Howard signing is Morey. The Rockets’ GM has used his computer science background to bring statistical analysis to the NBA and identify skills and traits among players that other teams’ front offices may have overlooked in the past. Think Billy Beane of Moneyball fame, but on the hardwood instead of the diamond. He thinks of players as assets to be parlayed into superstars, the championship-yielding currency of today’s NBA.

Morey’s first big splash as GM came last year, just before the start of the season, when he was able to extract James Harden from Oklahoma City for Kevin Martin (a solid, but not spectacular one-way player in the final year of his contract), Jeremy Lamb (the 12th pick in the previous draft), and a couple of future draft picks.

At the time, it was unknown how Harden would adapt to the increased workload in Houston, but after finishing the season fifth in the league in scoring, he’s proven himself more than capable. Since Kobe tore his Achilles and Dwyane Wade looked scared to shoot outside the paint in the Finals, Harden is poised to become the best shooting guard in the league next season. As an added bonus, he’s only 23, despite what his amazing beard might suggest.

Last season proved for the Rockets that one superstar isn’t enough in the modern NBA. They made the playoffs, but fell to the Thunder in the first round. Ultimately, it was a successful season for the NBA’s youngest team, and even without Howard, the future would look bright. This renewed optimism is what drew the all-world center to Houston. Not only can the Rockets contend immediately with Howard at the five, but they should be near the top of the league standings for the foreseeable future.

So what’s next for Morey’s Rockets? The power forward position is in a state of flux right now with second year players Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas penciled in at the top of the depth chart. Omer Asik, the player whose minutes Howard is going to take, is slightly underpaid, pissed off and soon to be underutilized. The logical move would be to trade Asik for a starting power forward, and I’m sure there are soon to be offers on the table. Morey would be wise to bide his time, let Asik and Howard share the floor some at the beginning of the season and wait for a guy like LaMarcus Aldridge or Kevin Love to become disenchanted with their middling teams and then pull the trigger.

As the Miami Heat have proven over the past two seasons, you win titles in the NBA by acquiring superstars and filling out the roster with players on rookie contracts and veterans willing to be vastly underpaid for a chance to win a ring. Getting the superstars is the hard part of that equation and the Rockets have two in the fold for the near future with James Harden and Dwight Howard.

- Colin is a staff reporter for the Houstonian and mass communication major.

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