NBA Handicapping: Aftermath of Dwight Howard Move to Houston
by Trevor Whenham - 7/19/2013
Now that the dust has settled and we know what Dwight Howard’s new address is going to be, it’s time to take a look at what it all might mean in the early days of the season from a betting perspective. Part of what makes this whole saga so sickeningly compelling is the amount of wreckage left in the wake of this deal. The Magic are a shell of their former selves without their superstar, though ironically they may ultimately be the best off of anyone. The Sixers and Nuggets have nothing to show for their role in the deal. While we could spill a lot of ink talking about those situations, what I really want to focus on is the two key players in the most recent chapter in the saga:
Since adding Howard, the Rockets are now the third choice to win the NBA Championship, according to Bovada, at 9/1. Only the overwhelming favorites from Miami at 21/10 and the Thunder at 6/1 have lower odds. The question, then, is whether adding Howard to the core of Harden, Lin and company makes this team as good as the odds suggest. If only that were a simple question.
The biggest boost Howard gives the team is in general defensive demeanor. The Rockets have not been a particularly strong defensive team, and they have struggled to find a gear below top speed in their games. With Howard as a defensive wall, the team not only has by far the best defensive player they have had, but also a security blanket — if Harden gets in trouble while defending a player, for example, he can funnel him towards Howard and have a better chance of avoiding disaster. This team has not looked like a true playoff contender. Now they have the potential to do much better on that front. I’m still not convinced that he brings enough to elevate them to the highest levels, but it’s an improvement.
The biggest problem, though, is far more glaring. Simply put, Howard is an absolute basket case. He didn’t fit in L.A. partly because of how he was used, but the biggest reason it didn’t work is because he never committed to making it work. He was a whiny, pouting baby from the start despite being in a situation that should have worked — at least much better than it did. Now he has gotten what he wanted — a hand-picked landing spot. He should be happier than he has been in years. He still has to find a way to work alongside James Harden, though, and meshing with a superstar is clearly not among Howard’s greatest strengths. I expect initial struggles through the early part of the season. What I am not yet confident of is whether the early struggles can turn into success, and how quickly that will happen.
From a personnel perspective, there are two areas for concern. First, can Harden accept that he is going to have to give up some of the touches inside that he thrives on? As hard as it could be for Howard to adjust, Harden could have issues as well. Second, the Rockets have a very nice working class asset in Omer Asik. He wants to be traded, but he would be a loss. The team either needs to find a way to make him happy or find a way to get top value from trading him. Both will be tough.
The way that the odds have fallen hard since the signing is a clear sign that the public is ferociously in love with a team. Regardless of how you feel about the situation going forward, there is little doubt that value will be all but impossible to find in the early days of the season.
There is a bright spot in this whole thing. Kobe Bryant was a very young man the last time public expectations were this low for this squad. They have long been as public as a team can be, yet here they sit at 40/1 to win it all — higher odds than 13 other teams. In other words, their chances of winning it all are behind every legitimate challenger in the league. So, why is that good news — unless it really makes you happy to see the Lakers struggle? Well, if you have any faith at all in this core — Kobe, Nash and Pau — then these odds suggest that it is going to be easier to find value than it typically is when the team is horrifically overhyped and overbet.
The biggest issue, though, is that the Lakers have worked hard to prove that they are a collection of morons in recent times — ever since they thought that hiring Mike D’Antonio was the best move. Their reported pitch to Howard was ridiculous. Refusing to sign and trade him to salvage some assets out of the situation was just dumb pride. The insistence on pursuing LeBron and Melo publicly for next year — even though both would have to be crazy to come to the Lakers — is silly. The team just isn’t in touch with who they really are, and that makes it hard to believe that they are going to be able to realize any of that potential to deliver value.
The biggest positive the team has going for them, though, is that they don’t have to deal with Howard anymore — even if they have nothing to show for him or the assets they traded away for him. He was completely destructive to the team, so they are instantly better off without him — even without his presence on the court. There is no certainty that the team will be better without him, but they certainly wouldn’t be the first team to improve just by removing a problem and improving chemistry dramatically.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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