One of my first college journalism professors, who always used green pens to correct our assignments, would have these Dwight Howard reports looking like a rainforest by the time he finished with them. There’s been speculation about Howard’s next destination since before Christmas and we’re well past the Fourth of July with no one able to provide definitive answers to the essential journalistic questions, the Five W’s of Who, What, Where, When and Why.
I’ll take on that last one -- Why -- at least as it pertains to the Houston Rockets, the most curious of all of Howard’s suitors. He’s never expressed a desire to play there, yet general manager Daryl Morey is relentlessly chasing Howard. Others around the league wonder about the fervent pursuit, which has already seen the Rockets use the amnesty provision on Luis Scola as a means to clear salary-cap space, all so the Rockets can accommodate the Orlando Magic’s wish to shed weighty contracts in addition to Howard.
It doesn’t seem to matter that a strictly two-team trade would leave the Rockets in the exact same situation as the Magic: a non-championship team stuck with bad contracts and a superstar who doesn’t want to stay around.
So why bother?
As one person familiar with the Rockets’ thinking put it, no matter how small their chances of keeping Howard might be, that percentage is still higher than their chance of getting a player of Howard’s caliber -- a true franchise player who has come within three games of a championship -- through the draft lottery. History is against the salvation-through-the-draft model. Only six No. 1 overall draft picks have won a championship and a Most Valuable Player award while playing for the team that drafted them. So that’s why the Rockets are still in this, even as they trudge uphill and against the winds of logic.
Why would Howard stick in Houston? Well, part of the Rockets’ plan is to clear enough salary-cap space to go after another major free agent next summer, and provide him the second superstar he’d need to pursue a championship.
They’ll have the “home-court advantage” when he becomes a free agent, with the ability to guarantee him an additional year and approximately $25 million more than anyone else, as the Brooklyn Nets just did with Deron Williams. Remember, by opting in for the final year of his old contract that was negotiated by former agent Aaron Goodwin, Howard kept his new agent, Dan Fegan, from receiving any salary commission from him this season. There’s lost money to be made up, so wouldn’t that provide incentive for Fegan to get Howard to sign the most lucrative possible contract -- the Rockets’ -- next year?
Second would be the Jeremy Lin factor. If the Knicks don’t match Houston’s contract offer and Lin becomes a Rocket, Houston would resume its role as Asia’s NBA team. The Rockets already established business relationships with Chinese companies who bought courtside banner ads while Yao Ming was with the team, so they’re perfectly positioned to market Lin -- and Howard -- in Asia.
Howard wants a global brand, and he’s already made efforts to establish his presence in China. Playing with Lin would help that cause. Chinese television scrambled to add Knicks games to the schedule after the Linsanity craze last season. Imagine how many Rockets games they could broadcast knowing his schedule months in advance.
Howard should consult Tracy McGrady, whose jersey was among the top four sellers in China from 2006 to 2009 while he played alongside Yao. T-Mac’s No. 1 Rockets jersey outsold LeBron James and even Yao himself.
All of this doesn’t mean this trade will happen. Heck, there’s still a chance NO Howard trade happens and he goes through the season with the Magic. But at least there are a couple of reasons the Rockets would take the chance and why Howard might actually reward them for it.