Does Dwight Howard Make the Houston Rockets Instant Championship Contenders?

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Usually a general manager starts to question the worth of a player when he underperforms on the court, but in the case of Dwight Howard, several GMs around the league had to be wondering that same thing over the last few days after the ongoing saga that is “Dwightmare”.

Making LeBron James’ 2010 ESPN special called “The Decision” look like completely rational behavior, in the last year Howard has forced a trade out of Orlando, rebuffed offers from the vaunted Los Angeles Lakers and started a media frenzy of speculation after hearing pitches from Houston, Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles and Golden State. The All-Star center informed all parties but the Lakers and Rockets that they were out of the running for his services leaving many to believe he was on his way to Houston.

Then, finally, last night Dwightmare came to an end. With his confirmation that he will join the Houston Rockets, Howard has finally ended one of the most ridiculous free agent sagas in NBA history by agreeing to a four year $88 million contract with the Rockets. His goal was to put himself into a position to win titles and now he may be able to do just that.

The Rockets have the pieces in place to win now with James Harden in the lineup as a co-star to Howard, but it looks like Houston GM Daryl Morey isn’t done yet. Over the course of a nine year project, Morey has deconstructed, rebuilt, re-tooled and performed every crafty salary cap clearing trade and maneuver you can think of to get the Rockets where they are now.

The team went into last season with next to no expectations placed upon them and came out with a 45 win season that saw them make the playoffs for the first time in four years. But it was fairly obvious the team wasn’t going to compete for a title any time soon with their high speed style of play on offense and a complete lack of defense. Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin complemented Harden nicely at times, but adding Howard quickly turns them into a title contender and it appears Morey may not be done dealing.

The Rockets are now rumored to be chasing Howard’s good friend Josh Smith who would probably fill the power forward position after the team traded away Thomas Robinson to Portland for some second round picks and the rights to two European prospects. The Rockets still have young talent in guys like Chandler Parsons, Donatas Motiejunas and Terrence Jones and they could actually wait on trading either Lin or Asik until next season if they don’t land Smith. Asik and Lin will make a combined $10.5 million next season, so the Rockets don’t necessarily have to trade them just yet, but whether or not Jeremy Lin is the guard to lead them into the future is certainly a matter for debate and waiting until next summer when you’re desperate to trade them is certainly a dangerous game.

In any case, the Rockets are now the real deal. It’s a big blow for their division rivals in Dallas who not only missed out on their target free agent for the second straight summer, but lose him to a division opponent who beat them out for a seat at the postseason table already this season. The Rockets are now in the conversation for the Southwest Division crown as the Spurs age and the Grizzlies adjust to life under a new head coach.

But, if you think that Howard will take a back seat and not be in the news now because his free agency is over, forget it. In Houston, Howard will be the focal point of the franchise, the center of attention and a major cog in the offensive machine, something he wasn’t in Los Angeles. He may have a television show and his antics are certain to become more ridiculous as time moves on.

On the other hand, he’ll have one of the great post players of all time as his head coach in Kevin McHale as well one of the greatest centers of all time at his disposal in Hakeem Olajuwon. He’ll have co-star who has no trouble sharing the limelight yet can carry him at times in James Harden and a general manager that has a vision for winning. It may be everything he dreamed of, but now he’ll have to deal with the pressure that goes with living your dream. To say the least, this latest development is going to be pure entertainment.