Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Rockets’ Infatuation Could Lead to Heartbreak

By Stephen Kerr

If your heart has ever been completely captured by someone, you know the signs: lots of sleepless nights, your mind thinks of little else, and you'll do anything to win their favor.

Maybe Daryl Morey can identify with some of those emotions. The Houston Rockets general manager probably hasn't slept much the past few weeks, and he's pulling as many strings as he can to woo one player's favor: Dwight Howard.

If you want proof, all you have to do is look at the roster moves the Rockets have made recently to put themselves in a position to trade for Howard. Kyle Lowry, Goran Dragic, Marcus Camby, Luis Scola, Chase Budinger, and Sam Dalembert, are all gone from the past season's roster. All these moves have given the Rockets the cap room they need to go after a star, whether it's the Lakers' Andrew Bynum or Dwight Howard. They also signed Jeremy Lin to an offer sheet, and it appears the New York Knicks will not attempt to match it, so Lin could be another piece of the Rockets' new puzzle for next season.

While the Rockets would certainly not complain if they ended up with a player like Bynum, it's become apparent they want Howard to be their knight in shining armor, the one who can bring them back to championship contention. According to sources close to the talks, the Rockets have expressed a willingness to take on long-term contracts of several veterans the Magic are trying to unload, including Jason Richardson, Chris Duhon, Hedo Turkoglu, and Quentin Richardson. The Rockets could also send current and/or future Draft picks to Orlando as part of the package.

On the surface, pursuing Howard is a no-brainer. The Rockets would have a bona fide star to build around, and a legitimate shot to get back in the playoffs, something they haven't done over the last three seasons.

A closer look, however, reveals some major concerns the Rockets should pay serious attention to before pulling the trigger. Howard's indecision of whether he wanted to stay in Orlando or be traded last season kept both sides going back and forth like a ping-pong ball. After finally opting to stay put just before the NBA trade deadline, Howard made it clear through comments to the media he couldn't play for Stan Van Gundy, and wanted the head coach removed.

Howard then suffered a back injury in a game against Philadelphia, forcing him to have surgery and miss the rest of the season. Recently, he informed Orlando once again he wanted to be traded, specifically to the Brooklyn Nets. Such a deal appears to be off the table, particularly since the Nets agreed to a four-year contract with center Brook Lopez.

Perhaps the most telling sign that the Rockets should be less than enthusiastic about acquiring Howard, is his reluctance to play for the team, something he has made clear on numerous occasions. If the Rockets are unable to convince him to sign a long-term deal, they would either have to hope they can trade him before next season's deadline, or lose him altogether and be stuck with paying out money to former Magic players' leftover contracts. That money could be used to make other trades or free agent acquisitions. Plus, any young players or future draft choices the Rockets lose to Orlando would be wasted on a hired gun who has no interest in sticking around past next season.

Since Howard is adamant about not wanting to play for the Rockets, what's to stop him from claiming his back is not sufficiently recovered enough, even if doctors clear him to play by the start of next season? While it's hard to dispute Howard's hustle and competitiveness on the court, his spoiled and immature behavior makes such a possibility less far-fetched than you might think.

Failure to pull off a trade for Howard wouldn't be the end of the world. Daryl Morey, however, is willing to gamble his team's future he can charm the unpredictable star into falling in love with the team and the city. Let's hope Morey doesn't end up like the jilted lover who gets his heart broken.

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