HOUSTON (AP) — Last offseason, the Houston Rockets were an afterthought, a young team with little star power.
Now, after trading for James Harden just before this past season and adding Dwight Howard on Friday, Houston is suddenly primed to contend sooner than almost anybody expected.
Still, Houston general manager Daryl Morey knows nabbing Howard is only the first step in a long process for his team.
“We haven’t accomplished anything yet, but we’re putting something pretty cool together, I think,” Morey said in an interview with Comcast SportsNet Houston.
Howard is the Rockets’ latest superstar center, following Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon and eight-time All-Star Yao Ming.
They reached the playoffs for the first time since 2009 this season and battled back from a 3-0 deficit before being eliminated by the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 6.
Their return to the postseason showed they have plenty of speed and long-range scoring power with Harden, Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons. Omer Asik was a solid rebounder in the playoff run and averaged 12.3 points in the series, but it was clear that the team needed a more potent scoring threat inside.
The addition of Howard gives them just that, as the 6-foot-11 star has averaged more than 18 points and almost 13 rebounds in his nine-year career.
His one season in Los Angeles was filled with unrest, including what many believed to be a less than positive relationship with Kobe Bryant. Bryant unfollowed Howard on Twitter on Friday night after he announced his decision to join the Rockets with a tweet.
It was the end of a short tenure with the Lakers in which Howard averaged 17 points and almost 11 rebounds in the playoffs, where the injury-riddled team was swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the first round.
Morey believes his team offers many benefits to the 27-year-old center, but one thing sealed the deal.
“I think Dwight’s in a great place in his career,” Morey said in the television interview. “He’s focused on winning and we gave him the best chance to win. It’s that simple.”
Howard can’t officially sign until July 10 when next season’s salary cap has been set. The Rockets can pay him $88 million over a four-year contract — $30 million less than what Los Angeles could have given him.
But in Houston, Howard saw the chance to join Harden and boost this up-and-coming team. Harden blossomed in his first year with the Rockets, going from stellar sixth man with the Thunder to Houston’s top player. He averaged 25.9 points, 4.9 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 1.8 steals, setting career highs in each category.
After Howard made his decision Friday night, Harden tweeted: “Houston we have lift off!!,” and posted a photo to Instagram of him and his newest teammate together.
“No matter how you look at it we thought it was a pretty straightforward choice,” Morey said on Comcast. “To Dwight’s credit he did turn down a pretty significant amount of money to come to the Rockets. It shows his mindset that he’s really ready to take that next step. If you look at best players, James Harden is the best player out there that he could join.”
But Harden certainly isn’t Houston’s only weapon. The Rockets signed Lin last season to run their offense and they were also buoyed by the development of Parsons, a second-round pick in 2011.
Parsons averaged 15.5 points last season and was even better in the playoffs when Lin was ailing, averaging 18.2 points against the Thunder.
Morey believes the move puts the Rockets among the top teams in the Western Conference and definitely positions them to contend for a title. He pointed to the Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder as the teams he sees as Houston’s biggest competition next season.
“We obviously have our work cut out for us,” he said on Comcast. “We’re going to set ourselves up to be able to compete with them. This move is obviously the most important one. We’ll let the chips fall where they may.”
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This Week’s Celebrity Instagrams (11/26-12/2)
30 photos Launch gallery
1. Little Legend and Puddy 😍😍😍😍
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2. "You on point Phife?" "all the time,Tip". 💥 #bannedfromnormal
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3. Vegan! The Impossible burger at Crossroads
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4. Lawrence #BeforeandAfterEpisodes 1-4: 184lbs 13% body fatEpisode 8: 196lbs 8% body fat S/O @coachdaveboxing with the works outs and @kildareriordan with the nutrition
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5. Jus haaaanngin out
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6. Meanwhile back at home in Atlanta GA someone mad they not on the 🛳. 😳
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7. No limits... Photo cred: Chris Bridges @ludacris
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8. new new
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9. Apparently my 260lbs is too much for the actual vines in the Hawaiian jungles to hold me without breaking and me falling hundreds of feet. So for safety purposes, I'm forced to swing thru #Jumanjj on wires strong enough to hold 12 adult buffaloes and 1 adult Rock. #OnSet #Jumanji #IronicallyIEatBuffaloDailyForLunch #MoreManThanNatureKnowsWhatToDoWith
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10. hey ma! 🎎#wcw 💙
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11. Surprise visit to our factories!!! #GoodAmerican #USA
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13. Peachy Keen 🔥✨⚡️
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14. If this don't look thankful I don't know what does. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. #UltraBlessed #24kMagic #SweetPotatoFly
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15. Late nights @nbcmarlon with the writers... we in here!!!
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16. There goes my baaaaaaaaabbbbyyyyy #QueenKingMagic!!! We're up to something! Ira BIG!!! Stay out our buisness -
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17. You want to win every game you play but when you come home to these faces... who cares. #ILoveYouGirls best part of my day, everyday!
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18. Steady,steady..... full size jenga.. "I got this one "???? Or do I ?
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19. Cornrows kind of day 😉@dontaysavoy2 you convinced me and I love. ❤️️
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20. #BrotherlyLove #tbt
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22. #basel #TeamLOVE @kingcombs
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23. Just introduced a special screening of @directher 's groundbreaking (must see) documentary @13thfilm with my brother @themichaelealy | @unitedblackout #blackoutblackfriday
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24. Me & Vanessa Williams giving #DuckLips #Pose on the set of #DaytimeDivas @vh1 - Coming Soon to a tv near you. Lol. - My make up done by @makeupsurgeon
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25. This picture just makes me wanna praise the Lord, you hear me!!!!!! Yes Lord brotha #TEDDYCAMPBELL What a #man !!! You are everything right on this picture husband ......... #gorgeous #stylish #classy #strong #masculine #king #sexy #debonair #gentlemenstyle And that #bible in your hand just seals the deal for me (probably cause i know that, that is what helped you become just as amazing as you look😘). While my heart and mind experiences the goodness of God at #church on Sundays, my eyes experiences the goodness of Teddy😍. Amen somebody🙌🏽. "Bless the Lord oh my soul and all that is within me bless his holy name" #myman #myhusband #goodman #blackman #dapperman #godlyman #goodfather #mybestfriend
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26. Yesterday was my mama's 53rd birthday!!!!! Got to celebrate with her all day. If this is what I have to look forward to I can't wait. Looking like a soft bucket a cocoa butter. Yaaaaaaaaaas! 😍😍😍 love you mommy!
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27. "Shout out to @PureAtlanta for getting the family right"....I'm loving this jogger. 😍😍
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28. This pic warms my heart ❤️ #myLogiebeans and aunt aunt umba @itowandabraxton 😘
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29. You will always be my baby😜. #HappyBirthdayReginae #mybaby18
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30. GC "Gods Child" Red on Red SweatSuit available now at www.MonicaApparel.com ... Take Your Crown wherever you go!! I'm pictured in a Medium... Go to the site now for other options ... cc: @trukernell
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