On Tuesday, reports surfaced that Houston Rockets star center Dwight Howard was “unhappy” with being James Harden’s sidekick, to the point where the Rockets were looking at the idea of potentially trading Howard after signing him as a free agent in 2013. We outlined some of the reasons that stuff didn’t necessarily check out. Now Howard has come out of the gate firing, denying that there’s a rift with Harden, and denying that he wants out.
In short: Dwight Howard is mad. From USA Today:
“I chose to go to Houston [via free agency in the summer of 2013], so why would I just say, ‘I’m not happy’ and leave,” Howard, who is widely expected to become a free agent again this summer, told USA TODAY Sports. “I chose this place, you know what I’m saying? And I want to make this thing work here. Obviously we haven’t been playing great basketball, and personally for myself my numbers don’t seem like I’ve been playing great, but the only thing on my mind is trying to grow as a man and grow as a teammate and a leader. All the BS that’s around, sometimes it is frustrating to hear it, because I know who I am as a man and I know what I’m trying to do for this city.”
Specifically, Howard knows there’s an ill-timed subplot brewing about how he can’t co-exist with fellow All-Star James Harden anymore. But Howard, who missed all but one game in the preseason because of back problems, insists that this is the farthest thing from a repeat of the dysfunctional Kobe Bryant situation that will be front and center yet again in this latest Lakers matchup.
“People can say what they want about me and James and that whole situation, but I came here and the biggest reason was because of him, because I want both of us to grow and be great basketball players and be great teammates together,” Howard said. “It’s on us to do it. We are the ones who are held accountable for the good things and the bad things that happen to this team, and I came here with that mission, so that both of us can grow.
“He’s rising as a star, and I’ve seen all the things that he’s done and I’ve been through almost all of the things that he’s done as a basketball player. And I want to help him grow and reach even higher heights. All the other stuff is just noise. I just hate hearing it.”
There are two perspectives here. One, Howard really did seem to be making progress as a leader last season for Houston. When he came back from injury, there was all this speculation of how he would respond to James Harden having become “the man.” But instead, Howard said that he needed to focus on defense and helping the team win. He didn’t make a fuss about post touches, he didn’t come in and yuk it up. If anything, Howard seemed like the most focused one on the team as it struggled (and came back) against the Clippers and then were bested by the Warriors.
On the other hand, I’ve spent a lot of time watching Rockets games this season, and the problem is on the leadership end. It’s not a matchup problem with talent, it’s not a fit problem with scheme, it’s not any of those tangible things you can point to. They lack heart and hustle, and those things are driven by strong leadership.
Howard, along with Harden, has failed as a leader.
So that’s why these rumors start. If the Rockets were blasting through a suddenly-weak Western Conference, there would be no talk about Howard’s unhappiness. Those rumors would never arise, unless he wanted them to. Winning cures all. But even beyond winning, if the Rockets were just competitive, if they were just beating teams they should on paper beat, this wouldn’t be a problem.
It’s good that Howard took this step. He didn’t issue a non-denial denial. He went out and said, to reporters on record, not just to USA Today but to reporters after the Rockets’ loss to Sacramento on Tuesday, that none of it is true. He defended himself and put his name on it. That’s all he can do.
Well, that and play better. That would also help.