It is official.
According to Sam Amick of USA Today Sports, Dwight Howard, the biggest name in this year’s free agency frenzy, has agreed to sign with the Houston Rockets.
Houston, who had been courting Howard through various means including celebrity messages and reportedly offering him his own TV show, ultimately emerged victorious over the Los Angeles Lakers, who had desperately been fighting to keep the 6-foot-11, 265-pound center.
But once the fanfare has worn off, the Rockets have some work to do. They have been linked to free agent Josh Smith, who would be a good signing in addition to Howard, but even if they aren’t successful in inking him, they still have a team that could in fact be worthy to contend for a championship in 2014.
Many had said the one missing piece for the Rockets was a big, strong, talented center. And now that they have it, the Rockets should emerge as one of the top teams in the West.
Having made some big splashes in last year’s free agency/trade market, the Rockets landed young point guard Jeremy Lin and underrated sixth man-turned-starter, James Harden. Last season, the 23-year-old Harden averaged 25.9 points per game while playing a little over 38 minutes a contest. The 24-year-old Lin added 13.4 points as well as 6.1 assists per game. And if you combine those numbers with the 15.3 PPG and 5.5 RPG from 24-year-old forward Chandler Parsons, then you can see why adding Howard to the mix will take the Rockets from an eight-seed to a top-four seed or perhaps more.
The West is still ruled by the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder, but Houston just got itself significantly closer to that upper echelon. Plus, as mentioned, their top three stars are under 24 years old and Howard is under 30. This team is young and they are going to be equipped to start winning.
Of course, there is the caveat of Howard’s back. When healthy, the self-proclaimed “Superman” is a beast on the boards and in the paint. Even in an off year in 2012-13, Howard still averaged 17.1 points and 12.4 rebounds, which is just under his career numbers of about 18 and 12.9.
While I will not be so naive to concede a championship to Houston like so many odds makers did when Howard joined Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant in L.A., the team has certainly done their due diligence in getting much closer. Of course, the West will still be tough, but Howard may be just the piece to take Houston and Howard himself, one day soon, to the pinnacle of basketball greatness, an NBA championship.