Dwight Howard made a statement when he decided that the Houston Rockets would be the first team he'd meet with at the start of free agency and the Los Angeles Lakers would be the last. Houston’s job was to dazzle the 27-year-old big man, to show him how much better his life would be if he put on a Rockets jersey. Los Angeles’ job is to keep him – to show him that last year was the exception, not the rule.
So, how did Houston do early Monday morning? By all accounts, pretty well. According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, "the Rockets did nothing to dampen Howard's enthusiasm for the possibilities of playing for Houston.” Of course, there was one little wrinkle – they weren’t actually the first team to meet with Howard.
As noted by ESPN, Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak snuck in a brief meeting with Howard prior to his sit down with the Rockets. The official company line is that he just offered a quick greeting and wished his center luck, and even if that’s all it was, Kupchak got his point across. The Lakers want their guy back – and they won’t try to be too cool for school in their mission to accomplish that goal.
At the end of the day, contrary to what a lot of people say, the Rockets’ sole sales pitch is: you won’t have to play with Kobe Bryant and Mike D’Antoni here. Houston’s championship prospects are identical to the Lakers’ at this stage in the game. Neither team is better than the Oklahoma City Thunder. Heck, there is a reasonable to be made that neither is better than Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles Clippers or San Antonio Spurs. The only thing that would make the Lakers noticeably worse than the Rockets, or vice versa, is the addition or subtraction of Howard.
This ridiculous notion that the Rockets are ‘closer’ to a title than the Lakers is akin to saying the Nets are closer to a title than the Knicks. Maybe you can make that argument, but since neither is actually in a position to win the title, what's the point?
Howard might choose to go to the Rockets because of his obvious dislike for Bryant and D’Antoni. But it certainly won’t be because Houston has any shot at winning a title next year or the year after that.