To no one’s surprise, the Houston Rockets won the Dwight Howard sweepstakes yesterday. During his tumultuous season with the Los Angeles Lakers, it became apparent that Howard would bolt Los Angeles for greener pastures once free agency began. The only questions were: where he would go, and how would he choose his next destination?
After seeing who his four finalists, besides the Lakers, were — Atlanta Hawks, Golden State Warriors, Dallas Mavericks and Rockets — it became blatantly clear what he wanted from his next team. To be the undisputed “Man” and to have a coach not named or affiliated with Mike D’antoni, all while being surrounded by at least one star player.
While much was made of what the Rockets could offer — they play in Texas with no state tax and have Hall of Fame big man Kevin McHale as their coach — the fact is that he chose Houston because none of his other finalists had a comparable star to James Harden — you know, someone like Bradley Beal.
That’s a joke, but then again it isn’t. This is because Washington Wizards GM Ernie Grunfeld defied logic and turned down the chance to acquire Harden from the Oklahoma City Thunder. Leading up to the 2012 NBA Draft, rumors spread, and were later confirmed, that Oklahoma City offered Harden to Washington for parts and the No.3 pick in the draft, which later became Beal.
Grunfeld’s reasoning behind not pulling the trigger on the said deal was that he didn’t want to commit max money to a player while in the midst of a rebuilding job. Even as Harden established himself as a bonafide superstar last season, there seemed to be little regret on Washington’s part. Its season was ravaged by injury to the point that; even with Harden, they weren’t a playoff team.
Furthermore, they found a franchise cornerstone in Beal — who will be playing on his affordable rookie contract for the next three seasons — to align next to franchise player John Wall.
So while Grunfeld erred in passing on a talent like Harden, you don’t pass on a known talent like Harden in favor of a rookie, ever; he saved face, until now that is.
Had he swung a deal for Harden on 2012’s draft night, Howard would probably be donning a Wizards uniform next season. A core of Wall and Harden would’ve made Washington more appealing to Howard than Houston with Harden, or any other team for that matter.
Howard would have the requisite talent in Washington to immediately contend for a championship — although, some combination of Nene, Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor would’ve been traded in order to sign him — while also playing in the easier Eastern Conference. Yes, they would have to go through the Miami Heat, but seeing how they’ve been taken to the brink of elimination on multiple occasions — by inferior opponents, I might add — that task wouldn’t be as daunting as it might seem.
Also, Washington could’ve offered Howard something that his past teams couldn’t, a chance to star without being compared to past legends. With the Orlando Magic he had to live up to Shaquille O’Neal and with the Lakers he had to live up to the numerous Hall of Fame big men before him — O’Neal once again, Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, to name a few. Even in Houston, he has Hakeem Olajuwon’s greatness hovering over him. In Washington, he would’ve had a clean slate to build his legacy.
Nonetheless, this is nothing but a fantasy; another what-if-Grunfeld-was-a-competent-GM scenario for Wizards fans.
With Wall, Beal and good health, the playoffs may return to the Verizon Center this upcoming season. For a playoff starved town like D.C., that will probably suffice; it’s not great but it’s good enough.
Still, good enough is never something one should get used to, the goal is to always to strive for greatness. From the looks of things, Washington missed its shot at just that.