The Dwight Howard Effect: Fans of the LA Lakers likely won’t agree with the impact a player like Dwight Howard has on a team, mainly because their experience with the 6’10 big man was far from an ideal romance. A shotgun wedding is a more fitting description, one that ended in heart break and venom.
In Houston, however, the story has been very different. Howard, who is healthy for the first time in a while, is again on a team with young players he can relate and connect wit. He is having a solid year professionally, while his team is having success on the court sitting at 42-19 on the season and just four games out of the top spot in the West with 21 games remaining on the season.
Howard’s impact on the Rockets would seem fairly obvious, but when you talk to players that were on the Rockets’ team last year about what’s changed so much in just one season they all seem to answer the question the same way – “Dwight”.
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From Patrick Beverley to Jeremy Lin to Chandler Parsons they all have a Howard impact story. Beverley talked about how much open space he finds himself with, joking that his job with James Harden and Howard on the floor is to throw the ball to one of them and go camp out in the corner. Beverley admits that he often finds himself “too” open because of all the attention both Harden and Howard command defensively, but he’s not complaining.
Rockets forward Omri Casspi labeled Howard as one of the best teammates he’s ever had and talked about how Howard goes out of his way to make sure that everyone is included and that things are always light hearted and fun. Casspi joked that he’d never played with a player that opposing teams run away from when he is holding down the middle defensively.
There is no question last year in LA was toxic for all involved, however in Houston it seems that Howard is back to being himself again with his infectious smile, jovial nature and dominating on court performances.
It has not come at a price. The once beloved Howard now finds himself boo’d and heckled everywhere he goes. Teammates joked with him before the game last night in Orlando about how bad it was going to be for him and then after the game gave him play-by-play of the signs and heckling they heard.
Howard takes it all in stride offering his own stories and observation of the jeers he gets on a nightly basis. “Did you see that guy over there…” is a common statement to his friend Parsons, who shares the locker next to him.
They all laugh and try to keep it funny with Howard, even though some of the comments are as mean and nasty as they come in sports.
Howard’s impact on the Rockets players is profound, especially with the trust that he instills in his teammates defensively. The confidence the other players seem to have gained by having him in the paint has been the biggest change for them.
Since January 1 the Rockets are 20-6 (.769), giving them once of the best records since then and to a man the Rockets all say it the same way: They are starting to trust each other and have become comfortable with their roles.
No one in the locker room was ready to proclaim the team as title contenders, but with Howard playing as well as he has and his teammates drawing so much inspiration and confidence from their big man, it’s hard not to look at Houston as a team that could be poised for big things this postseason – assuming they can stay healthy.
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At the same point last season the Rockets were 33-28, having won nine fewer games. With 21 games left on this season and only 13 of them being against Western Conference team the Rockets look poised to eclipse last season’s 45-37 record, maybe as soon as next week.
For all the drama and vitriol that Howard seems to bring out in his jilted fans, his biggest fans these days are inside the Rockets locker room and they are awfully happy to have him back to being the old Dwight Howard.
The Return Of Royce White: Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports is reporting that the Sacramento Kings will sign former first round pick Royce White to a 10-day contract and immediately send him to the D-League for an extended look with their affiliated team the Reno Big Horns.
White’s struggles in the NBA have been well documented. He has become the poster child for anxiety and mental health issues in sports and has now had two NBA teams (Houston and Philadelphia) pass on him despite what many in the NBA label as obvious NBA skills.
The Kings worked out White last week and there was talk that maybe they would add him to the roster in Sacramento.
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For now it looks like the Kings are simply going to see what he has to offer via the D-League before making any further commitments to White.
The Sixers opted to waive White in October and are paying the final year of his rookie scale contract worth roughly $1.7 million, so White isn’t exactly starving.
League sources openly question how much White really wanted to play in the NBA after holding his ground with the Rockets last season over what he described as an unsafe and unsuitable working environment. There was talk that Houston was reluctant to simply waive White last year over fears of lawsuits and legal repercussions. Its believed that the trade to Philly somewhat cleared the deck on the legal hurdles of getting White off of Houston’s roster.
It will be interesting to see how White handles another run in the D-League this year and if the Kings will genuinely look to sign him if only to lock up his rights for their summer program.
White is expected to practice with the Big Horns today and is under contract for what could be as many as four games in the D-League.
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