Dwight Howard made his decision official Tuesday afternoon, telling the Houston Rockets he will decline his $23.2 million player option, opting to play somewhere else next season.
In reality, Howard made this decision during the just-completed season. Late in the season, irked by a lack of involvement in the offense, Howard went to general manager Daryl Morey and asked to be involved.
Howard told this story to our own Jackie MacMullan, saying the reply from Morey was, “No thanks, we like the way we’re playing.”
The way the Rockets played, employing a lot of outside shots with a reliance on shooting guard James Harden to run the offense, was the opposite of how things were run the previous season.
Morey declined comment to ESPN regarding that conversation with Howard. However, in the 2014-15 season, Howard was a strong force alongside Harden in helping the Rockets earn 56 victories and advance to the West finals before losing to the eventual champion Golden State Warriors.
It seemed as if the Rockets were destined to be an elite team, but then the 2015-16 season started and it went downhill.
Harden didn’t show up in shape, thanks to a severely sprained ankle, and Howard encountered back issues, slowing his development at the start of the season.
When the two were finally healthy, coach Kevin McHale had been fired and the team was fighting to finish 41-41 and sneak into the postseason as the eighth seed.
Now Howard is gone — unless he changes his mind and wants to play under newly hired Mike D’Antoni and become someone who trails the offense and scores his shots on putbacks, pick-and-roll plays and fewer post-up moves.
Howard is a post-up center most likely getting the final big-money contract of his career. At age 30, Howard needs to find a team willing to make him the first or second option on offense. Few teams play with a center as the No. 1 option. New Orleans uses big man Anthony Davis in a variety of ways, and he has been learning how to shoot from the outside.
So where does Howard go?
His numbers from this past season would lead you to believe there are only so many options for him. Howard averaged just 13.7 points per game in 71 contests, his lowest output since his rookie year with the Orlando Magic, when he was a fresh-faced 19-year-old from an Atlanta high school.
His usage rate this season was 18.4, also his lowest output since 16.7 in his rookie season. Some of these numbers are misleading because of how the Rockets used Howard.
Houston didn’t use him enough and it showed on the floor, as Harden got tired and other players underperformed.
When the free-agent hustle starts this summer for Kevin Durant and LeBron James‘ services, Howard should get some invitations for visits. Dallas, Portland, Orlando and Milwaukee are in the mix for Howard, but whether or not he signs with them is uncertain.
Whomever he signs with, Howard must come with the understanding that this could be his last chance at a ring and a major contract.