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Saturday, July 06, 2013

Preliminary Thoughts About Dwight Howard's Decision

Dwight Howard's move to Houston will not become official until at least July 10 and usually I wait until such transactions are formalized before I provide my analysis but this is such a potentially big story (no pun intended) that I will offer some early observations now:
  1. It appears that the L.A. Lakers chose Coach Mike D'Antoni over Dwight Howard, at least if one buys the premise that Howard would have stayed in L.A. if the Lakers had hired Phil Jackson as the coach--and I buy that premise. While no one can say for sure if Jackson still wanted the job and/or if Howard really would have stayed, retaining D'Antoni meant that the Lakers had very little chance to keep Howard. If D'Antoni never leads the Lakers to a championship and/or if Howard wins at least one championship in Houston then the decision to choose D'Antoni over Howard could be viewed as one of the most significant blunders in NBA history. Howard could have potentially won a championship with Kobe Bryant and then been the focal point of the Lakers for the next five to 10 years; now he may have a similarly huge impact in Houston.
  2. Even though almost every scenario turned out as badly as possible--a messy coaching situation, Dwight Howard being less than 100% physically, Steve Nash and Steve Blake being hurt, Pau Gasol being hurt (and sulking), Kobe Bryant rupturing his Achilles and Howard leaving after just one season--it still must be said that the Lakers made the right choice to trade Andrew Bynum for Howard. Combining Bryant, Howard, Gasol and Nash on the same team at least put the Lakers in position to potentially contend for the championship; Bynum did not play in one game last season, so if the Lakers had stood pat then they would not have given themselves a realistic chance to win the title. The Lakers took their shot and it did not work but with Bryant nearing the end of his career it made more sense to go that route than to do what Dallas did (blow up a team that had just won a championship while dreaming about signing Dwight Howard, Deron Williams or Chris Paul). The Lakers will probably struggle through the 2013-14 season as Bryant returns to form but then the Lakers can use their salary cap space in the summer of 2013 to make one last attempt to win a championship before Bryant retires. Or, if Bryant does not return to form, then they can start the rebuilding process next summer.
  3. All of that being said, anyone who thinks that the Lakers are better off without Howard is an idiot. When healthy, Howard is the best big man in the NBA and a top five player overall. He can turn a mediocre team into a playoff team and a playoff team into a championship contender. Do not be deceived by the Lakers' relatively poor performance last season; the coaching situation was a disaster and multiple injuries sank the team (including injuries to Howard himself). The Lakers are losing a great player, most likely for nothing (unless they arrange a sign and trade deal with the Rockets). 
  4. If Bryant does not return to form and play at a high level in at least 60 games next season then the Lakers as presently constituted will struggle to make the playoffs. Howard cannot be criticized for leaving L.A.; the coaching situation is a mess (D'Antoni is not a bad coach but he is the wrong coach for this roster), Bryant's status is uncertain and the rest of the supporting cast is not trustworthy due to age, health and/or skill set concerns, so it is understandable why Howard departed for greener pastures even if he will receive less green (roughly $30 million less guaranteed money over the course of the contract, unless the Rockets pull off a sign and trade deal with the Lakers).
  5. D'Antoni is on pace to be one of the most reviled figures in Lakers' history; he ran Bryant into the ground--I don't care what anyone says, the heavy workload that he imposed on Bryant while the Lakers fought just to squeeze into the playoffs had a lot to do with Bryant's injury--and his mere presence likely ran Howard out of town. If Bryant is never the same again and Howard creates a dynasty in Houston then D'Antoni will have torpedoed the Lakers while also turning one of their rivals into an elite team. If Phil Jackson had coached the Lakers last season they would have utilized Howard and Gasol properly, they would have made the playoffs without wrecking Bryant's body and Howard probably would have stayed in L.A. 
  6. Even if Bryant returns to full health, he is not the player he was circa 2006-2010; he can no longer singlehandedly carry a bad team to the playoffs or carry a good but not great team to back to back titles (if you think that the 2009 and 2010 Lakers were great, then please research what Lamar Odom, Trevor Ariza, Shannon Brown, Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic and Luke Walton have done since leaving the Lakers--and we won't even talk about Bynum, because he put up Luc Longley-like numbers during those two championship runs: 6.3 ppg and 3.7 rpg in the 2009 postseason, followed by 8.6 ppg and 6.9 rpg in the 2010 postseason). The Lakers need to get consistent low post scoring either from Gasol or someone else, they need to acquire an athletic small forward and they need to acquire a young, athletic point guard. 
  7. Howard is the best player in Houston now, not James Harden--and this is not even close, just like it is not close between LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. The Rockets must build their offense around Howard in the paint, with Howard either scoring against one on one coverage or passing to open shooters if he is double-teamed. Howard's presence in the paint will cut down on some of Harden's driving opportunities but should present Harden with more open jumpers. If the Rockets insist on having Harden and Jeremy Lin dribble the ball while Howard watches then Howard will not be happy and the Rockets will not be very successful. Howard should average about 22 ppg, Harden should average about 20 ppg and the role players should fall in line behind them, with the three point shooters all increasing their percentages over their career norms.
  8. If the Rockets utilize Howard correctly and avoid injuries to key players then they should win at least 55 games and be a serious championship contender. I am not sure that they can beat the Thunder or Spurs in a seven game series but if they do not perform clearly better than everyone else in the West then something is very wrong.
  9. Much was said last season about Harden supposedly being a franchise player. If that is true, then the combination of two franchise players in their primes should make Houston a championship contender for years to come. The Rockets stumbled into this good fortune--thanks to the Lakers' injuries and their ridiculous handling of their coaching situation--and it will be very interesting to see if the Rockets can fully take advantage of having Howard land in their laps.

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:24 AM

27 comments

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27 Comments:

At Saturday, July 06, 2013 4:04:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...



Marcel

He wasnt fina be Kobesidekick or play for dantoni. He made the better choice its less pressure a smaller market and they got a better upside than older lakers. They wasnt competeing for title next year wit lakers anywho. Dantoni didnt say a word to him in meeting and Kobe told him he still the man on team and hell teach him how to win. Howard not gasol he a top five player in nba that doesn't sit well wit him. Houston definite contenders if he come bak to orlandp form. Even then he got too get better in post and make free throws for them to win a title.

The lakers are going to win twenty five games and got too hope to get a top three lottery pick and a free agent and then they could come back. To title form. Its rare a player leavr lakers for Houston and alot of laker fans are happy actually. Well see what happens.

Post phoenix dantoni been a disaster knicks won six playoff games seventy one and thirty five since he resigned and noe he got swept in playoffs wit lakers and lost a superstar fa.

Well see if others want to go to lakers wit jim buss at helm.

 
At Saturday, July 06, 2013 7:40:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great read. My only thing is now people are gonna hype of Morey the gm of the rockets and champion his advanced stats method now lol

Also your 100 percent right about the 2008-2010 lakers Suporting cast. We all know why people overrated them(to diminish Bryant ) but when you look at it objectively they werent that talented. No spacing, worst PG in the league on both sides of the ball, no depth, and a C on one leg playing less then 25 mins a night.

 
At Saturday, July 06, 2013 8:41:00 AM, Anonymous AW said...

I agree with everything you said.

I really thought Dwight would stay with the Lakers. It sure would have made things easier on Kobe Bryant.

A lor of people would disagree with you about Dwight being a top five player.(which he is) Because his skillset isn't great. But he has proven himself as a franchie player already which squashes anything people says about it.

I do feel Houston should run the offense through Dwight. He is the guy that will give Houston a shot at winning a title, not Harden. But most people may consider Harden Houston's best player because he may very well lead them in scoring next season.

 
At Saturday, July 06, 2013 10:48:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Marcel:

I don't believe that being Bryant's "sidekick" was a major problem for Howard, because that situation would only have lasted for one or two more years at the most; if anything, Bryant possibly never returning to form (due to injury/age) was an issue, because Howard may have rightfully wondered what the Lakers' post-Bryant plans are.

D'Antoni was the biggest issue for Howard and it is surprising that the Lakers chose D'Antoni over Howard.

I don't think that Howard has to make free throws at a better clip in order to win a championship, though of course that would be helpful. Chamberlain, Russell and O'Neal won multiple championships despite being poor free throw shooters.

 
At Saturday, July 06, 2013 11:09:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

Yes, the Rockets have been mediocre--at best--throughout the Morey regime but now Howard fell into their laps and many people will be eager to credit "advanced basketball statistics" for whatever success the Rockets enjoy in the future, even though these same people did not blame "advanced basketball statistics" for the Rockets' failures in recent seasons.

 
At Saturday, July 06, 2013 11:12:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

AW:

When the Lakers made it clear that they were keeping D'Antoni I thought it very likely that Howard would leave; the only reason for him to stay was the extra $30 million but different tax regulations will make up for some of that and, unless Howard gets hurt, he will make up the rest when he signs his next contract.

 
At Saturday, July 06, 2013 4:36:00 PM, Anonymous CR said...

David,

I agree with most of what you say here, but I don't think we have any definitive evidence that Phil Jackson actually wanted to coach the Lakers again. He definitely flirted with the idea last season, but that's about it. Many local LA media members believe Phil doesn't want to coach again but would prefer to run basketball operations (Jim Buss's job).

From the Lakers' perspective, I'm sure they saw how Cleveland (with LeBron) and Orlando (with Howard) fired their coaches to try to keep their franchise player and the guy left town anyway.

I think Phil Jackson did the organization and the Laker fans a real disservice by flirting with the idea of coming back when he was not 100% committed to the idea of coaching again.

The Lakers should have played out the rest of last season with Mike Brown as coach and then made a decision on the coach at the end of the season. You can't fire Brown unless you're 100% certain Phil wants the job, which left them with an ill-fitting D'Antoni as coach.

 
At Saturday, July 06, 2013 7:56:00 PM, Anonymous JACKF said...

David,

as a Lakers fan IMO, Dwight Howard made the right decision in choosing the Rockets over us. Considering that we wasted 3 years of Kobe's prime(04-07), If i was HOward i would have reservations about the Lakers' FO ability to be able to put a championship team around me too.

Everything started going downhill for us since the Mike Brown hire when Jim Buss decided that he wanted a coach who would feature Andrew Bynum more at the detriment of Pau Gasol.

Looking Back, I somewhat agree with Kobe asking for a trade b/c he was worying about not being able to fulfill his goals. 3 years later his knees gave out on him. So in hindsight he was right.

 
At Saturday, July 06, 2013 7:58:00 PM, Anonymous JACKF said...

David(continued)

Lakers practically chose D'Antoni over Dwight Howard. One thing i dont understand is the logic behind building a team around a 40 year old PG.

 
At Saturday, July 06, 2013 8:31:00 PM, Anonymous JLK1 said...

You are spot on that Howard is immediately Houston's best player. We'll see how long it takes for the talking heads to figure that out. Howard is on a very short list of players who could conceivably break LeBron's stranglehold on the MVP award.

I'm more comfortable with analytics than you are, but even setting that aside Houston seems to be a well run team that has positioned itself to attract a big time free agent. They aren't hamstrung by bad contracts and have found some cheap but productive players like Chandler Parsons and Patrick Beverley.

Notably Houston is one of the youngest teams in the league. Eight players logged at least 1,000 regular season minutes for Houston last year, and the two oldest are Carlos Delfino (30) and Omer Asik (26). It will be interesting to see if they build an older, more veteran roster around Howard and Harden over the next year or two.

As I write this Josh Smith has signed with Detroit. He was mentioned as a possible candidate to join the Rockets with Howard, but apparently they couldn't make it work.

 
At Sunday, July 07, 2013 12:27:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jack F:

I can't--and did not--criticize Howard for leaving the Lakers, precisely because of the reasons you listed.

Mike Brown would have been a much better coach for the Lakers than Mike D'Antoni if the Lakers had given Brown a fair shot but the best choice would have been to keep Jackson in the first place or to have rehired him after the Howard/Bynum trade.

 
At Sunday, July 07, 2013 12:32:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

JLK1:

I am very comfortable with the proper use of basketball statistics and I frequently use statistics in my basketball analysis; I disagree with many of the notions propounded by "stat gurus," such as coaching does not matter and that it is possible to evaluate players effectively without watching the games.

Whether or not a team is "well run" is ultimately proven by the team's record and the team's postseason success. The Morey regime has not produced much in either regard thus far but the Howard-Harden tandem should make the team a legit championship contender if the rest of the roster is filled out properly, if the team is coached correctly and if the key players stay healthy. I don't think that "analytics" are required to figure out that Howard is the league's best big man and that signing him is a good move. The previous moves that Houston made that may have been based on "analytics" have not produced tangible results but Howard fell into the Rockets' laps thanks to the Lakers' blunders. If the Lakers were being run properly then Howard would never have left and the Rockets would be stuck with Harden as their best player, which would have been a recipe for annually fighting to get the eighth seed.

 
At Sunday, July 07, 2013 12:34:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

CR:

You are right that we don't know if Jackson wanted the job now but there were pretty solid indications that he wanted the job right after Brown was fired. The Lakers mishandled the coaching situation very badly and it has cost them the chance to retain the services of the league's best center.

 
At Sunday, July 07, 2013 8:41:00 AM, Anonymous DanielSong39 said...

David, it's not 2009 anymore and it's been a while since Dwight Howard was an elite player in the league. Ever since then he's been on a steady downhill trajectory. What makes you think he will magically recover his form from 5 seasons ago?

 
At Sunday, July 07, 2013 11:14:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shaquille O’Neal:
http://www.nba.com/video/channels/nba_tv/2013/07/07/20130706-gt-shaq-on-howard.nba/index.html

“Well, first of all, being a center for the Los Angeles Lakers, especially a good one, when they call you the best big man in the league, there is a lot of pressure. When I first got there, Jerry West made me look up at the rafters, and said, ‘You see Kareem Abdul-Jabbar? You see Wilt Chamberlain? These are the names that you have to live up to.’ When it comes to pressure, some look pressure in the face, and welcome it, and others walk away from pressure. I mean, I knew, when you can make $30 million playing where you are, and get a max contract playing where you are, and then you acknowledge you want to meet with other teams that is just telling me you are not happy with your conditions now and you want to do something different. When he signed with Houston, I wasn’t surprised.”

“I didn’t have a problem [with the billboard]. They brought him in last year. Things didn’t go as planned. So, you know, the good thing about the Lakers organization is that they have been on every side of the fence before. They have been on the really good and on the really bad. They just want another chance, him and Kobe, a healthy Nash, and everybody on the same page, on paper, they are a dangerous team. So, when you have a marquee player, and you want him to stay, you do whatever it takes to get him to stay.”

“I don’t want to [be disrespectful too]. Mitch Kupchak is a fine general manager. The Buss family has always done a wonderful job. I heard a discussion about Mike D’Antoni not fitting Dwight’s style. That’s false. I played for Mike D’Antoni. He is the easiest coach on my body that I had in my career. He loves the big man, and Dwight is a pick and roll big man, and he has about a hundred million pick and roll plays to get Dwight involved. It’s about what you do, and about what you get your teammates to do, to win. Just think about it, before I was introduced to the Triangle was I a Triangle player? I was not a Triangle player. Phil Jackson brought in that boring Triangle. I listened to what he said, but I added a little bit of my own stuff to the Triangle to it, Kobe added a little bit of his stuff to it, and we got everybody to work together. That’s what you do to win championships. It has nothing to do with the coach. You know that, and I know that. It has nothing to do with the coach. It has everything to do with you.”

 
At Sunday, July 07, 2013 6:57:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David,

I have a question which pertains to constructing a team under the new CBA; there are implications for both the Lakers (who are noticeably constrained due to decisions made under the past CBA, which the current CBA is far more punative) as well as the Rockets (who now have two MAX players on their roster).

It seems to me that signing multiple MAX salary level players is a near recipe for disaster, because there isn't enough room to flesh out the roster with sufficient talent, unless several veterans are willing to sacrifice salary for the chance to win a championship.

With Houston paying both Howard and Harden MAX salaries, can they assemble a sufficiently decent bench? Obviously, they have some young and underpaid talent (Parsons), and they may be able to trade Lin+Asik into a supporting cast with better balance.

In my view, if a team is paying two MAX salaries, the starting lineup alone will put the team near or perhaps even over the cap. How can a team fill out a decent bench under these circumstances? Despite the injuries last year, I felt that the Lakers had a fairly weak bench (at least on paper), and frankly, Earl Clark's emergence was like finding a diamong in the rough. But where can teams find the Robert Horrys and Rick Foxes to flesh out the roster?

It seems to me that teams that over-invest in their starting 5 are going to suffer a bench that coughs up leads more often than not (this certainly happened a lot under the Lakers, especially under Brown). And, a weak bench definitely meets that one or two major injuries is essentially death to a season.

Additionally, this problem may lead to over-reliance on the starting 5, which leads to excessive minutes paid, and high-profile injuries like Kobe's achilles.

Is this really the best way to build a team?

Miami is the obvious exception here, but: (1) their big 3 signed for less than the max; and (2) Lebron is enough of a draw that many more-than-solid players, like Ray Allen, are willing to take a paycut to join up.

Likewise, look at San Antonio.

 
At Monday, July 08, 2013 3:52:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Daniel Song 39:

In the 2008-09 season, Howard averaged 20.6 ppg, 13.8 rpg and 2.9 bpg while shooting .578 from the field in the regular season. He led the league in rebounding and blocked shots and he carried the Magic to the Finals. Last season, coming back early from back surgery, playing in a system that did not suit his strengths and limited for most of the season by a shoulder injury, Howard averaged 17.1 ppg, 12.4 rpg and 2.4 bpg while shooting .572 from the field. He led the league in rebounding and ranked fifth in blocked shots. In 2011-12, Howard's last fully healthy season, he averaged 20.6 ppg, a career-high 14.5 rpg and 2.1 bpg while shooting .573 from the field. Assuming that Howard has now recovered completely from the back surgery and the shoulder injury and assuming that he stays healthy, I see absolutely no evidence that Howard is a declining player.

 
At Monday, July 08, 2013 3:57:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

I often am not sure what to make of Shaq's pronouncements, because his statements frequently contain healthy doses of revisionist history/self-serving praise. I agree with a lot of what he said in this particular instance but in light of the way that he had toe surgery "on company time" because he suffered the injury "on company time" and in light of many other situations in his career, I am not sure if Shaq is the right person to be delivering some of those messages about Howard. If Shaq had been fully dedicated and committed throughout his career then he probably would have won more MVPs and he certainly would have won more championships.

 
At Monday, July 08, 2013 3:59:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

You are right that the new CBA will stop--or least discourage--some of the teams that used carry massive payrolls. I have not been impressed with the Rockets for the past several seasons and I am interested to see what kind of roster their front office puts around Howard--and what playing style the coaching staff employs.

 
At Monday, July 08, 2013 6:16:00 AM, Anonymous AW said...

Just right before coming to the Lakers Dwight had already established as a top player.
He made first team all nba for five straight seasons.(98-12) He was first team defense several times. Also he was a perenial defensive player of the year candidate. So He Ddn't just fall off the block because of one off year.

Since Houston probably overpaid Harden then that may stop them from building a better roster down the line.

 
At Monday, July 08, 2013 12:44:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

AW:

There is no question that Houston overpaid Harden and the Rockets will likely suffer some consequences for that mistake, though the acquisition of Howard (thanks to the Lakers' bungling) will mitigate the effects of that error to some extent.

 
At Monday, July 08, 2013 2:29:00 PM, Anonymous AW said...

I been thinking. Harden in a way is a lot like Gilbert Arenas from 2006-2008. A guy that is capable of putting up a lot points every game as a legit first option for a team, but can't be the number one guy on a contender.

I think it will be interesting what Houston does with Lin and Asik. Ithink Lin is overrpaid also. He got paid because of that 15-20 game stretch in which he performed good for the Knicks. I think Asik could be valuable for the second unit.

 
At Monday, July 08, 2013 3:14:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

AW:

Harden is a lot like Arenas or Monta Ellis, guys who can score a lot of points and entertain the fans but who cannot be the best player on a legit championship contender.

 
At Monday, July 08, 2013 3:59:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear David,

Given Howard's pathetic free throw shooting, he's a foul target in tight situations and close games. You're better fouling him then letting someone else take a shot. His recovery last year exposed his shortcomings in the post. These are probably not issues for the next 2-3 years, but as he ages, he will be less effective. Shaq was a much more well-rounded player compared to Howard, but Shaq really fell off after winning in Miami. I don't know if Howard's weight will be an issue like Shaq's toward the tail of his career. That being said, I just don't see the current make up of the Rockets getting them to the finals. Maybe the western conference finals, but McHale's coaching liabilities would make that a challenge.

 
At Monday, July 08, 2013 4:57:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

Russell, Chamberlain and O'Neal won a lot of championships despite being very poor free throw shooters. Unless a player shoots significantly worse than .500 from the free throw line he is still providing one point per possession if the opposing team intentionally fouls him. Those intentional fouls can lead to foul trouble (both for individuals and for the team), they enable Howard's team to set up their half court defense and thus they can take the fouling team out of their own game. Obviously, it would be ideal if Howard could shoot at least .700 from the free throw line but he can win a championship without doing so.

Shaq fell off as he aged because he rarely was serious about his physical conditioning. Say what you will about Howard but one thing that cannot be questioned is his dedication to being in shape.

I don't think that McHale is a bad coach but he has yet to prove that he is a great coach; now that he has a top five player plus an All-Star we will get a better sense of his coaching strengths/weaknesses.

 
At Wednesday, July 10, 2013 6:33:00 PM, Anonymous Abacus Reveals said...

I think it will be fascinating to see how Dwight Howard meshes with Coach McHale and his staff.
McHale was a phenomenal player with an exceptional "feel" for the game, truly competitve, and plenty tough (he kept playing through some debilitating foot issues for a good while).
But he was also a total goofball -- remember him snatching the cigar right out of Red Auerbach's mouth when they won the title his rookie year.
And while "laissez-faire" might be a bit too strong a term, he was not "driven" in the same way as a Bird or Cowens. (Jackie MacMullen speaks to this in her Bird/Magic book.)

I've always wondered how much Kelvin Sampson handled the "nuts and bolts" of the Rockets' coaching, particularly considering Kevin's personal tragedy this past season.

To my eyes, Howard is the modern-day exemplar of the old adage, "So-and-so is a Hall of Famer -- from the neck down." (Either that, or he dyes his hair and actually is the proverbial "blonde.")

So, will Kevin and Dwight hit it off as kindred spirits?
Or will Coach McHale be frustrated and flustered by Howard's personal immaturity and flightiness?

We shall see.

 
At Friday, July 12, 2013 7:37:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe Dwight & McHale will mutually accentuate each other's clowniness & flintyness.

 

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