The Houston Rockets reportedly spent a lot of time shopping around Dwight Howard before yesterday’s trade deadline. This was no great surprise, as the Rockets have been the most dysfunctional team in the NBA not named the Kings, and Howard’s partnership with James Harden hasn’t worked out the way the team hoped it would. But the Rockets failed to unload Howard, and it could be because they were asking for too much in return.
According to ESPN’s Marc Stein, the Rockets had conversations with multiple teams about making a deal for Howard, but they all fell apart when Houston demanded “at least one frontline player and a future first-round draft pick in return.” That’s a lot to ask for a 30-year-old, injury-prone center whose effects on team chemistry are starting to outweigh his on-court production. It’s also a lot to ask for a guy who will opt out of the final year of his contract and go looking for a bigger max deal this summer when the salary cap spikes. It’s hard to sell a fringe contender on trading for a rental player in any season, but especially during one in which there’s a 48-4 team at the top of the standings.
So what do the Rockets do now? They’re 27-28, and unless head coach J.B. Bickerstaff, who recently called the team “broken,” can suddenly right the ship, the rest of this season looks to be a lost cause. Howard and Harden might sulk their way to an eighth seed, but that will only end in them getting gutted by the Warriors in what would be the most skippable first-round playoff series in history.
After that, GM Daryl Morey will find himself in the exact same place he was before getting Howard: desperate to find a second star that can fit in with Harden. The upcoming free-agent market looks a bit grim in that regard. Kevin Durant is an unlikely option; and while Andre Drummond will be a restricted free agent, it’s hard to believe the Pistons wouldn’t match any offer for him. That leaves ... Al Horford? Ironically, the best fit for the Rockets might be Hassan Whiteside, the one center in the league who is actually more of a pain in the ass than Dwight Howard. Pray for whoever coaches that team next year.