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Houston’s new Superman may be its own kryptonite

Published 4:04pm Friday, July 12, 2013

Houston, you have a problem. Granted, that problem is 6-foot-11, 265 pounds of granite, a double-double waiting to happen and arguably the most feared rim protector in the NBA, but he’s a problem nonetheless.
In case you don’t know, I’m talking about Dwight Howard.
By now, most people know that the Houston Rockets won the Howard sweepstakes with a four-year, $88 million deal.
This move places the most athletic center and potentially (I stress this) best big man in the game with a young, exciting team led by James Harden, who used last season to assert himself into the conversation as one of the league’s best shooting guards.
On paper, it’s a fantastic move. A lot of great teams in NBA history were situated around an effective inside-outside duo: Kobe and Shaq, Magic and Kareem, Malone and Stockon, and so on.
Best-case scenario: Houston lands the best big man in the league, which still has yet to reach his potential. Paired with a rising superstar, an entertaining team and a coach and organization with the tools to get the best out of said player, the team flourishes and eventually brings the Rockets their first NBA title since 1995.
Worst-case scenario: We’ve already seen the best Howard has to offer on the court. In a stacked Western Conference, the Rockets are always in the conversation but can’t get past the Oklahoma City/Memphis/LA Clippers/San Antonio quartet.
Basically, Houston becomes the second coming of the Sacramento Kings from the late 90s-early 2000s: A high-octane, exciting team that comes up short even when they get all the breaks.
But let’s settle into the crux of the spectrum. After all, we’re dealing with a player notorious for his propensity to dillydally and waffle back and forth on important decisions, so why not temper expectations?
What will probably happen is that the Rockets, which went 45-37 last year (good for the final playoff spot in the West, or the fifth spot in the East), can be expected to win somewhere in the vicinity of say, 50-55 games.
Combined with Denver losing one of its key players from last season, another year on the old, yet highly formidable Spurs,  Memphis and the Clippers remaining good, and the assumption that Russell Westbrook returns to OKC as explosive as ever, this would mean the No. 4 or No. 5 seed in the West for Houston.
Oddly sounds like the worst-case scenario I painted above, but that totally wasn’t planned.
What happens in the playoffs is anyone’s guess. But this is more about what Houston has gotten itself into.
In landing Dwight Howard, they’ve gotten a player who, so far, has shown to prioritize personal enjoyment of basketball over winning, when both can be done.
The Rockets landed a center that has logged close to ten years in the Association and has coasted to numerous All-Star  game appearances despite having an offensive skill set nowhere near what it should be.
The man, who Houston seems to have pegged as the lynchpin to its championship aspirations, supposedly left Los Angeles because he didn’t get along with the incumbent “team’s best player.”
While that last one shouldn’t be a problem in H-town, it’s pretty clear to see that Houston’s sure bet is anything but.
Personally, I’m amused and not really surprised that Howard left the Lakers. It wasn’t the place for him and the sheer fact that the Lakers, of ALL franchises, actually tried to beg (by their standards) Howard to stay …  that just takes the cake.
I could go on and on, but the fact is Houston has landed a very good player with a whole lot of baggage and only one certainty about him.
That certainty? Nothing is certain in the world of Dwight Howard.
The “Dwightmare” as they call it may be over for most of us (thank God), but for Houston, I fear it may have just begun.
But of course, there will be more than enough sweet dreams beforehand.
Either way, Houston will find out who the real Dwight Howard is when the going gets tough. The best thing about it is that I don’t think Dwight Howard knows who the real Dwight Howard is.
Wait, yes he does. Well, not anymore. Or does he? You see where I’m going with this?
Bailey is sports editor for The Outlook.