The Houston Rockets made the biggest splash in free agency by acquiring Dwight Howard this offseason, but this wasn’t the first time Daryl Morey and friends made a play at the best center in basketball.
“We were sort of the ugly guy chasing the pretty girl for awhile,” Houston’s general manager said on The John Feinstein Show. “We (had tried) to trade for him twice. In fact, once we were allowed to talk to Dwight when free agency started off, he told us how – and we didn’t know this for sure – but how Orlando basically told him he was going to get traded to us if he didn’t re-up with them a couple years back when he resigned. He was almost a Rocket a couple times. Obviously in this business, you’ve got to be well-prepared, and you have to have some good fortune.”
The Rockets had both this offseason – not to mention a lot of cap room and a young, improving squad. Houston, thanks to James Harden, Jeremy Lin and defensive-minded Omer Asik, made the playoffs this past year before falling in the first round to Oklahoma City in six games.
The goal next year, however, is not merely to make the playoffs; it’s to win 55-60 games, get home-court advantage and advance to at least the Western Conference Finals. Morey believes Howard affords the Rockets that opportunity.
“I think the league’s really becoming something where attacking the basket is a highly valuable skill; the midrange game is less of an emphasis on a lot of the offenses that are run,” Morey said. “So having a rim protector and defender has always been important, but its importance has grown over the last couple years. That’s why we made the big play for Asik last year and then this year with Dwight. Obviously we feel like we have the premier guy in the league (in Howard), and Asik, we think, is top five.”
Morey said that Houston was a top-ten defensive team when Asik was on the floor last year. With Howard, the Rockets could be top five. Maybe better.
“If you’re going to win the title, you have to have a top-10 defense,” Morey said, “and we feel like Dwight and Asik give us that this year.”
While the defense will be on lockdown, Houston hopes to improve its scoring around the basket. Hakeem Olajuwon, who has agreed to develop Howard’s offensive game, should help in that regard.
“Dwight is a very mobile big, just like Hakeem,” Morey said. “It makes a lot more sense that Dwight is working with him (as opposed to Yao Ming). (Olajuwon is) going to work with Dwight as much as possible.”
Howard should provide more balance for a perimeter-oriented offense that featured a whole lot of James Harden last season.
Speaking of Harden, some teams apparently told Howard during the recruiting process that he should avoid going to the same franchise as the electrifying 23-year-old.
“That was maybe the most entertaining part of this,” Morey said. “(People were saying), ‘James harden is just like Kobe Bryant – and that’s evil.’ If James Harden is as good as Kobe Bryant, we’re in good shape; we’ll be thrilled with that. But they’re different players. James is a little more of a point guard; Kobe’s more of a pure scorer.”
The Rockets certainly have no shortage of players that can man the point. Lin is the official point guard, but Harden can handle the rock, Aaron Brooks can run the show and so can 2013 draft pick Isaiah Canaan, who will likely spend a year in the D-League.
This is nothing new for the Rockets, who use the D-League more – and better – than any team in the league.
“We’ve been a real pioneer there,” Morey said. “We were the first team to use a hybrid-style baseball model with our D-League teams where we run the basketball and the team runs the business operations. We’ve had great success. Aaron Brooks, Carl Landry, Steve Novak, Patrick Patterson – the list is long of guys that spent significant time down there and went on to (have) success.”