The Houston Rockets staved off elimination at the hands of the Golden State Warriors Monday night. Many expect them to still lose this series after going down 3-0, but of course, many did not expect the Rockets to even be in this position. Down 3-1 in their series versus the Los Angeles Clippers, the Rockets became only the 10th team in NBA history to come back from a 3-1 deficit to win a series. Plenty started to believe in the Rockets again. They were powered by star guard James Harden and the role players on the team were playing well. But as they head out of the Toyota Center for potentially the last time, the joy has turned to concern and focus. The Rockets have been leaning heavy on the services of James Harden this series. And all except for Game 3, Harden has been there and shown up. But there is the matter of the other star of this team. Dwight Howard is as good of a physical specimen as there is in the NBA. His size, speed and leaping ability are things that athletes dream of. With the physical matchup he had going into this series, there was some thought he would have a chance to dominate the series. Well, that thought has quickly turned into what most thought it would be in the end: disappointment. And that is the ultimate problem when it comes to Dwight Howard.
Before Howard came to Houston, the Rockets were a franchise trying to make it back to the level they were in the mid-1990’s with Rudy Tomjanovich as coach and Hakeem Olajuwon as the centerpiece of their team. While they did not quite make it there, the team made it back to the playoffs in 2013 while being led by Harden and a miscellaneous crew of players. When Dwight came to town, he was hailed as the missing piece to take the Rockets to the next level. Howard is a former Defensive Player of the Year, so naturally he was expected to help take their defense to the next level. But on the offensive end, he was expected to have an effect as well. Howard was to be working with Olajuwon, who still lives in the Houston area, on his post moves. And he was going to get his wish to get more opportunities on the block. Well, that happened and that proved to expose Howard more than anything. Howard may be a good athlete, but he is not the greatest when it comes to post play. Throwing it down to Dwight is always an adventure and has been so since he has been in the NBA. You would think at this point in his career he would have some sort of consistent post moves besides catching alley-oops and offensive rebound putbacks. But unfortunately he either does not have that down or is lacking in confidence in making those moves. Well, whatever the case, he is not dependable there. And when he gets in position, he can be fouled, which leads Dwight going to the free throw line, and that is not a win for Howard either.
Along with Howard's play on the court, he also came to Houston to be a leader in the locker room. Dwight Howard mistakenly gets credit for leading the Orlando Magic to the NBA Finals versus the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2008-2009 season. But in all actuality, it was the versatility of point forward Hedu Tukoglu that led them to the Finals. But make no mistake that he was a presence though, averaging 20 points and 15 rebounds. But how quickly some forget that the Magic were outclassed in that NBA Finals and Dwight did not have quite the effect he was thought to the entire game. His leadership was not evident there at that point when they were down. Fast forward to now and the Dwight Howard experience has not gone as planned for the Rockets. He is there, but last year they were bounced earlier than they thought and this season he missed half the games with knee issues. But even when he was on the floor, it seemed like he was not the same athletic Dwight we are used to seeing and it also seemed like he was not in any way a part of the leadership there. It is officially Harden’s team now and also when they huddles are going on, notice that Howard does not say much at all. In fact, veteran guard Jason Terry is way more vocal than he is and he did not play for the Rockets last season. Howard is not a leader and will never be one. And if someone is following him as their leader, then they may want to understand that Howard has not shown that he can be a leader at any point and time of his career. And any leader that is seen laughing on the bench when their team is getting blown out and that does some things that are not the mark of a leader is someone you may not want to follow anyway.
The addition of Howard could have been good, but Howard did not recognize his gift and put in the work to become the big man that many thought he could. So instead of getting a guy that could help take them to the next level, the Rockets got a big man that is closing in on 30 years old and is not the dominant big man and leader they thought he would be. To best use Howard, he needs to be a rebounder, finisher and defender because his offense is not something that you can depend on to ever take you where you want to go. When Orlando went to the NBA Finals, it was almost like a needle being found in a haystack and being thrown back in, only to be missing again. That glimmer of Dwight being the man to take you to the Promiseland is something of a mystery. Dwight is going to lead the Rockets nowhere fast. And that is just the cold reality of his presence in Houston.