The End of Dwight in Houston?

USATSI

As many college and high school students are studying and preparing for their finals, I can’t help to think about my college days during the worst week in school.  Granted, sometimes it wasn’t so bad, but most of the week would be filled with energy drinks, coffee, junk food and anything with sugar. By the end of the week, you couldn’t help to feel like crap.

I wasn’t a great student, so I for the first few years in college I would end up pulling at least one all-nighter during finals week. About three hours before the test, I knew I was screwed. I realized I had watched too much basketball during the quarter and didn’t study enough for the class. At that point I started to realize it was almost a hopeless cause. I would still study but would distract myself with basketball videos just trying to just stay awake. My effort started to wane as my brain was desperate for sleep and the stress of finals to be over.

As I watched Dwight Howard yesterday, I couldn’t help to think that he has given up. He looked like me just wanting the torture to end. It may have been the worse game Dwight has ever played. His reckless fouling has been an issue, but yesterday it seemed purposeful. It was as almost as if he wanted to get fouled out.

Howard used to be the best center in the game. Daryl Morey said he screamed when Dwight told him he would sign with the Rockets in 2013. He was Defensive Player of the Year in 2009, helped lead the Magic to the Finals, and is the youngest player to grab 9,000 boards.

It’s clear that injuries have slowed him down, and it’s nothing new that Dwight Howard hasn’t been the same player since his Orlando days. But he’s having his worst year since his rookie year. He’s averaging only 12.6 PPG, though he is rebounding and blocking at his average rate.

The Rockets have started off very slowly, and Kevin McHale was fired as a result. After the firing the Rockets are 7-7 and were 5-7 with McHale running the show. At this pace the team is in danger of missing the Playoffs, and even if they do make it they will be out in the first round most likely. This team won’t be able to compete with the Spurs or Warriors the way those two teams are currently playing. That leaves Morey with an interesting dilemma. Do you trade Dwight and rebuild around Harden?

Dwight is 30 years old and past his prime, but he still has value around the league. The Rockets would be able to get some nice pieces in return for him. They played 41 games in the regular season without Dwight last year and finished with the 2nd seed in a brutal Western Conference.

However, this year the team has struggled without Superman. The team’s offensive rating without Dwight is -7.4 but with him it’s +.2. Harden and Howard together net a +2.8 points over their opponents, according to basketball-reference.com, which is higher than the year before. So two stars are having down years, but they are still playing well enough together. It seems like there are other issues other than are causing the team to under perform.

The Ty Lawson experiment has failed. When Lawson has been on the court the team’s offensive rating is a -5.9, but with him off the court it’s -1.1. Lawson is at his best when he has the ball in his hands and he is pushing the tempo, but with Harden demanding the ball, so much it’s nearly impossible for Lawson to play the way he wants. Defensively the team knew they had to make strides if they wanted to play Harden and Lawson together, and Harden has taken steps backwards on that side of the court. Together their net rating is -6. You can see Harden just doesn’t give enough effort on defense.

The team relies too heavily on Harden on most possessions. The team makes a couple passes, but then they just watch Harden go to work. The Rockets definitely miss Josh Smith as crazy as that might sound to a Pistons fan. He was able to facilitate to give Harden a break. Smith also had good chemistry with Dwight.

For the team to get out of this slump and play to their potential, Morey is going to have to add another facilitator. That’s his best option - to get another guy who can give this team a spark on offense. Both Terrence Jones and Donatas Montiejunas are young players who will get a pay raise in the summer. You have to wonder if Morey is planning to resign both or only one of them. They could trade the other for that offensive spark.

The other more dangerous option is to trade Dwight. His body language is off, he doesn’t show an interest when the team is losing and he is past his prime. It’s not easy to get stars in this league, but the team needs a change. If the team gets a couple of picks with a young piece and a role player, Houston has to think hard about dealing Howard if he’s given up on the team, even though they have stated they don't plan to deal him away.

Indiana, Dallas and New York would be a few of the teams that would be interested in Dwight, but none of those teams would be able to offer what Boston could offer. The Celtics could dangle Dallas’ first round draft pick that they own, one of their own future first round picks, Marcus Smart and Amir Johnson. That’s a lot to give if you are Boston, but Dwight could be what Ainge is looking for.

After finals I would go home and crash for around 12 hours, sometimes more. However, after I woke up, there was no better feeling than being done. It was time to relax and move on to a fresh start with a new quarter. I would always tell myself that this time I will get straight A’s and procrastinate less next time. However, the next quarter would end up being similar to the previous one come finals week. I think Dwight is hoping for fresh feeling start, but the results aren’t guaranteed to be better.