published Tuesday, July 9th, 2013

Greeson: Rockets smart pick for Dwight

In this Jan. 25, 2013, file photo, Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard dunks during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz in Los Angeles.
In this Jan. 25, 2013, file photo, Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard dunks during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz in Los Angeles.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

LeBron James needs to send Dwight Howard a box of Cookie Lady cookies.

Howard picking the Houston Rockets over the Los Angeles Lakers all but decimated James' "Decision" and made Howard the new poster boy for the "He's nothing if he doesn't win it all" crowd. If King James winning his second consecutive title did not shush his critics, Howard's move surely will distract them.

But the current question for those stunned about Howard leaving L.A. for Houston is why? Here's one for you: Why not?

It was the smart move for Howard: Houston is better and younger and has a coach in Kevin McHale who will allow Howard to post up and get touches.

With Lakers star Kobe Bryant rehabbing a torn Achilles' tendon, the Lakers roster is now old and less than impressive. Howard saw that and reacted to it, picking the chance to win -- and a style suited to his game -- over staying in Hollywood.

This is the modern-day NBA that has been created to match the AAU model of basketball in which stars align themselves in the best possible place to win as many titles as possible. Will it yield not two, not three, not four, not five, etc., titles in Miami? Hard to know, but it has produced a copycat act that in truth hurts the NBA as a whole.

The NBA has become a very top-heavy league.

This was coming as soon as the Celtics' Big Three gave way to The Decision, which gave way to the Lakers' failed attempt at the Hall of Fame trio of Kobe, Nash and Howard. Stars are gravitating toward playing with other stars. Alpha dogs and sidekicks are giving way to Super Friends and Three Amigos and the like. It's happened, and there are eight to 10 teams that can win it all, and that's a big number. But there are 15-20 teams that have ZERO chance, and that's most of the league.

This model worked in the 1980s with the Lakers, Rockets, Celtics, Pistons and Sixers swapping title invitations. It was fine because the league was smaller, the TV spots were fewer and the rivalries then were fierce.

Now, in a fight for eyeballs and trying to provide as many quality matchups six nights a week on several TV networks, the NBA's top-loaded, star-laden approach leaves almost two-thirds of the league on the outside looking at the playoff pinnacle.

So why is Howard being crucified? He's only playing the free-agent game that has been crafted by those in front of him. Hey, everyone loves Shaq, but O'Neal is burying Howard because of a personal grudge and because Howard tried to rip off Superman's cape in Orlando. Move along. (And if memory serves, Shaq was quick to bolt Orlando for L.A. for a better chance at a title several years ago, too.)

As a player, Howard is overrated -- little more than a Shaq 0.8, if you will -- because he does not have a go-to post move and he is a late-game liability because he can't make foul shots. If you do not have a reliable offensive move other than "dunk it," you are not a lead dog on a title contender. If you can't be on the floor in the final minutes of a tight playoff game, you can't be an elite A-lister.

But why is Howard going to a better team with a coach who better suits his skills some sort of travesty? Howard left the Lakers, yes, and the Lakers are one of those franchises -- clubs that generate opinions and feelings and catch eyeballs -- but still. Other than the uniforms and the stars in the stands, Howard's choice was a no-brainer.

Houston is better than L.A. right now and just got even better with Howard. That said, the Rockets are still not better than the Heat, Spurs or Thunder and are in the muddled pack that includes the Grizzlies, the Bulls, the Nets, the Clippers and the Pacers.

That said, Howard is an elite defender and rebounder with value -- especially for a Houston team that has perimeter pieces and a need inside. Plus, playing Robin to James Harden's Batman has to be more fun than playing caddie to Kobe's Tiger Woods.

Even Shaq would agree with that logic.

Contact Jay Greeson at jgreeson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6273.

about Jay Greeson...

Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...

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