Dwight Howard’s arrival in Houston signals the arrival of one of the most dominant players in basketball, along with one of the most polarizing personalities in sports. Here at Red94, we are embracing the drama of Superman’s first season as a Rocket with a weekly column: “DwightLife.” This is the 14th installment.
We’ve already passed the anniversary of when Dwight Howard’s tenure in Los Angeles went the way of month-old dairy products.
It was just over a year ago when stories like these started flowing from the keyboards of the NBA’s chattering classes–when the chemical reaction between the personalities of Howard and Kobe did exactly what the laws of science predicted. At this point in Howard’s career with the Rockets, it’s clear that Superman has been flying through much less turbulence, but it bears examining whether any of the seeds are there for similar drama in the future.
The relationship between Howard and his new All-Star running mate, James Harden, has been nothing short of…opaque. Maybe it’s the result of the dimmer spotlights of the Houston market, but the personal relationship between Howard and Harden has generated exactly zero news since the initial arrival interviews, consisting mostly of the players’ rote acknowledgement of how well their on-court styles mesh. Since then, it has truly been all business. This is both a good thing and a bad thing.
The good side of it is that when the dynamic duo heads to Houston, it seems like there’s virtually zero chance that Dwight Howard puts on Harden’s jersey and starts mocking him behind his back. It also helps that he doesn’t have someone asking him after literally every game, “Hey, how are you and James getting along?” and opening the door for him to say something to tick his teammate off. It’s also a good sign that despite all of the adjustments each player has had to make to play with the other (Howard’s taking shots from Harden; Harden isn’t exactly a wizard at entering the ball into the post to Howard), and despite the shortcoming in each others’ games (Howard doesn’t know how to shoot free throws; Harden forgets what defense is), there hasn’t really been any public finger-pointing to speak of.
The bad side is that there seems to be little camaraderie between the two. When Howard pile-drives a lob from the Beard, don’t count on seeing a flying chest bump afterward. You’ll be lucky to see a jogging fist-bump. It’s just two-points and back on D. To some extent, the businesslike focus on winning is admirable, but the general coolness makes me worry. This team has had some tough losses, many of which no doubt led to some uncomfortable conversations on the plane afterward. Still, the 2013-2014 Rockets haven’t faced any real adversity. They haven’t endured a serious losing streak. They haven’t fallen behind in a playoff series. They haven’t fallen light years short of expectations. In other words, they haven’t faced the kind of stress that led to the feuding between Bryant and Howard last year.
If the Rockets are going to win a championship, they will face that kind of stress. Barring a miracle of team development, this season will end with an inevitably painful playoff exit. They will look at the tape and see the missed rotations and errant passes that cost them the season. Words will be said, and feelings will be felt. Some of those feelings might include the notion that the other half of the duo didn’t quite hold up his end of the bargain. In the absence of trust and friendship, those feelings can become walls.
Maybe Howard and Harden are developing that trust; maybe they’re building it in much more significant ways than high-fives and butt-pats. If they are, they’re keeping that process out of the spotlight.