At this point in the off-season of both the Houston Rockets and Dwight Howard, it’s all about speculation. About being able to get the most coveted free agent in the 2013 class, while thinking how this will help or change the dynamic of both Jeremy Lin and James Harden, the two most important players on the team last season.
Hypothetically, it should do a world of good. The simple and first reason is you can never have enough talent on your team, and the Rockets, a young side on the rise that needs more of pretty much everything – more depth, more talent and possibly more star power, although that’s always a tricky thing to handle.
James Harden exploded last season, given the reigns to lead a team for the first time in his career. He averaged 25.9 points per game, which did help elevate the Rockets into a playoff team’s status for the first time in three years, but he didn’t do it alone. The arrival of Omer Asik certainly helped in the paint, at least when it came to rebounding (12.3 points, 11.2 rebounds per game); the rise of Chandler Parsons to a legitimate starting player, averaging 15.5 points per game while shooting 38.5% from beyond the arc. And there was Jeremy Lin.
It was an up & down season for Lin, away from the media circus in New York. Early on, it seemed that his bond with James Harden in the backcourt might be one of the more exciting to watch in the NBA this season, but Lin saw less and less of the ball as a point guard and ball handler, demoted, or transformed into a spot up shooter, not a role that fits him well, regardless of how much Kevin McHale insists. Lin averaged 13.4 points and 6.1 assists per game, but his overall and per-minute numbers dropped from his previous season with the Knicks, shooting only 33.9% from beyond the arc, which isn’t what you expect from a shooting guard, which Lin has been playing as.
The arrival of Howard might bring back the Rockets to a more balanced mode. When Lin was given the opportunity to play as a natural point guard, it wasn’t only beneficial for him, but for the entire team. It happened more often when Harden wasn’t on the floor or missing a couple of games, but there were times when Harden (rarely) gave up on his own shot and decided to let the game flow through Lin.
Putting a center in the lineup that becomes the focus of the attack, or at least gets the ball as much as Harden does should be good for Lin, unless McHale expects Harden to be the point guard who keeps feeding Howard. That will only lead to frustration for the center once again, playing with a guard who hogs the ball way too much. Lin is a better passer and makes better decisions with the ball than Harden. The presence of Howard might simply force the ball to go more through Lin, which usually leads to better spacing, ball movement and Pick & Rolls, which we hardly saw from the Rockets when Harden had the ball.
There’s still some thinking to be done before there’s a chance of moving forward in the attempt to bring Howard over. Asik and Howard can’t co-exist, because both of them are paint players, centers who don’t exist too far from the basket. Howard is a better passer and is more used to a team of four players on the perimeter, while able to bring a nice defensive touch the Rockets sorely lacked last season. But is it smart paying Asik $8 million a season so he can play on the bench?
And how does the Rockets lineup look from here? Lin and Harden in the backcourt, with Parsons as a 3 or a 4? Does Carlos Delfino become a starter or does Donatas Motiejūnas get more chances to start as the power forward? Maybe Josh Smith is a better solution overall, and will probably be slightly cheaper than Howard, but that adds another player, who like Harden, likes the ball in his hands a little bit too much, and is known to have quite a frustrating shot selection process.
The Houston Rockets might be the best team for Dwight Howard, and that might be the best thing for Jeremy Lin. But for the Houston Rockets? Adding Howard means doing a whole lot of shifting to something they started building last season, and might not want to stop to benefit an expensive, talented, yet risky (socially) superstar.