FALL FROM GRACE

In just two seasons, former Rocket Dwight Howard has fallen off the face of the basketball earth

In just two seasons, former Rocket Dwight Howard has fallen off the face of the basketball earth
Dwight Howard has bounced around since leaving the Rockets. Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Given the ability of Rockets general manager Daryl Morey to remake the roster on the fly, it's easy to forget that Dwight Howard's tenure in Houston ended just two years ago.

He left the Rockets for a short-lived homecoming with the Atlanta Hawks and was traded the Charlotte Hornets after one season. Howard is now on the move again.

The Hornets sent Howard to the Brooklyn Nets on June 20, and the next day it was reported the two sides will negotiate a buyout.

Since his time with the Rockets came to a close, Howard will have played for three different teams in as many seasons. He has gone from one of the faces of the NBA to a vagabond.  

A reputation for a questionable attitude and inconsistent play will continue to follow Howard. His insistence that he is still a dominant force on offense has been a major factor in his fall from grace.

With an opportunity to chase rings, the looming question is: Will any contender want to sign the moody veteran known for getting on his teammates’ nerves? 

Howard is partly a victim of the times. Had he debuted in 1994 instead of 2004, it's fair to believe his career would have taken a different trajectory. It's not his fault how the game has passed him by and evolved to rely on 3-pointers and spacing. But it’s not as if he ever had the makings of an elite post player. 

Despite training sessions with then-coach Kevin McHale and Hakeem Olajuwon, there was enough awkward footwork and botched running hook shots to conclude that Howard would never develop post moves. It seems that everyone except Howard recognizes that his athleticism is what has kept him in the league for 14 years, and not finesse.

Wherever he lands, Howard won’t be asked to carry a scoring load. He may not even start. Howard can still easily average a double-double, and can be effective as a defender, rebounder and recipient of lobs. It remains to be seen if Howard can accept a role that carries less responsibilities. If he wants to join a championship-caliber team, he will have no choice.

Leaving Houston did not put a hex on Howard, but he has lost his luster. A similar argument can be made for what has happened to Chandler Parsons since he left for the Dallas Mavericks in 2014.

Parsons’ path to revitalizing his career will be more difficult than Howard’s. Long-term knee injury concerns have prematurely ended his regular season three years in a row. Prior to that, he missed the Mavs’ first-round series against the Rockets apart from a cameo in Game 1.

Parsons’ time in Dallas ended abruptly after two seasons, and he signed a four-year, $98.4 million deal with the Memphis Grizzlies. He has played a total of 70 games for the Grizzlies in two seasons. Being oft-injured and the two years and nearly $50 million left on his contract have made him the subject of trade rumors.

It was a heartbreaker for fans when the Rockets didn’t match Parsons’ offer when he was a restricted free agent. Howard’s pouting during the disastrous 41-41 season in 2015-2016 made his departure more imminent. It’s clear now that the Rockets were wise to part ways with them when they did.

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Astros on the hunt. Composite Getty Image.

With the Astros' surge from 10 games out of first place to within two games of Seattle, catching and going past the Mariners has naturally become the top objective. It's no given to happen but it's right there. In the final series ahead of the All-Star break, while the Mariners are in the midst of four games with the lowly Angels, the last two World Series champions renew (un)pleasantries at Minute Maid Park.

The Astros enter the weekend five games ahead of the Rangers. They lead the season series with the reigning champs four wins to three. While the Astros can't quite finish off the Arlingtonians by sweeping them in this three game set, shoving them eight games back (even further back of Seattle and the current Wild Card teams) and clinching the tiebreaker would seem close to a death blow. Taking two out of three would be fine for the Astros. If the Rangers win the series, they are clearly still in the American League West and Wild Card races coming out of the All-Star break.

Last year the Rangers had the best offense in the AL. So far in 2024 they rank a mediocre eighth in runs per game. Nathaniel Lowe is the lone Ranger (get it?!?) regular playing as well as he did last season. Corey Seager has been fine but not at the MVP runner-up level of last year. Marcus Semien is notably down, as is 2023 ALCS Astros-obliterater Adolis Garcia. Stud 2023 rookie Josh Jung has been out with a broken wrist since ex-Astro Phil Maton hit him with a pitch in the fourth game of this season, though fill-in third baseman Josh Smith has been the Rangers' best player. 21-year-old late season phenom Evan Carter largely stunk the first two months this season and has been out since late May with a back injury. Repeating is hard, never harder than it is now. Hence no Major League Baseball has done it since the Yankees won three straight World Series 1998-2000.

Chasing down the Division at a crazy clip

From the abyss of their 7-19 start, the Astros sweep over the Marlins clinched a winning record at the break with them at 49-44. Heading into the Texas matchup the Astros have won at a .627 clip since they were 7-19. A full season of .627 ball wins 101 games. If the Astros win at a .627 rate the rest of the way they'll finish with 92 wins, almost certainly enough to secure a postseason slot and likely enough to win the West. Expecting .627 the rest of the way is ambitious.

With it fairly clear that Lance McCullers is highly unlikely to contribute anything after his latest recovery setback, and Luis Garcia a major question mark, what Justin Verlander has left in 2024 grows more important. With the way the Astros often dissemble or poorly forecast when discussing injuries, for all we know Verlander could be cooked. Inside three weeks to the trade deadline, General Manager Dana Brown can't be thinking a back end of the rotation comprised of Spencer Arrighetti and Jake Bloss should be good enough. The Astros have 66 games to play after the All-Star break, including separate stretches with games on 18 and 16 consecutive days.

All-Star MIAs

Viewership for Tuesday's All-Star game at Globe Life Field in Arlington will be pretty, pretty, pretty low in Houston. One, All-Star Game ratings are pitiful every year compared to where they used to be. Two, the Astros could be down to zero representatives at Tuesday's showcase. Kyle Tucker was rightfully named a reserve but had no shot at playing as he continues the loooong recovery from a bone bruise (or worse) suffered June 3. Being named an All-Star for a ninth time was enough for Jose Altuve. He opts out of spending unnecessary time in Texas Rangers territory citing a sore wrist. This despite Altuve playing four games in a row since sitting out the day after he was plunked and highly likely to play in all three games versus the Rangers this weekend. Yordan Alvarez exiting Wednesday's rout of the Marlins with hip discomfort and then missing Thursday's game seem clear reasons for him to skip, though he has indicated thus far he intends to take part. Yordan is the most essential lineup component to the Astros' hopes of making an eighth straight playoff appearance.

Ronel Blanco should have made the American League squad on performance, but pretty obviously his 10 game illegal substance use suspension was held against him. As it works out, Blanco will pitch Sunday in the last game before the break which would render him unavailable for the All-Star Game anyway. Blanco is eligible to pitch, but given the career high-shattering innings workload Blanco is headed for, no way the Astros want him on the mound Tuesday. Just last year the Astros kept Framber Valdez from pitching in the game.

While waiting, and waiting, and waiting on Tucker's return, the Astros have also been waiting on Chas McCormick to get back to something even faintly resembling the hitter he was last year. McCormick routinely looks lost at the plate. He has four hits (all singles) in his last 32 at bats with his season OPS pitiful at .572. During the break the Astros should seriously weigh sending McCormick to AAA Sugar Land and giving Pedro Leon a try in a job share with Joey Loperfido.

*Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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