Houston Rockets: The team gave up on Harden and Howard way too soon

HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 18: Dwight Howard
HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 18: Dwight Howard /

They only spent three seasons together, but James Harden and Dwight Howard could have been so much better for the Houston Rockets.

When Dwight Howard decided to leave the bright lights of Los Angeles and take his talents to Clutch City, many predicted the Houston Rockets as the team to beat in the Western Conference.

Alongside Houston’s rising star, James Harden, the Rockets all-star pair were supposed to create the next best inside-outside duo in Houston since Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler. Fast forward to four years later, Howard is a member of the Charlotte Hornets and the Rockets are still trying to build a super team next to Harden in his prime.

In some aspect, it is easy to say that Houston was better off without Howard. Last season, the Rockets won 55 games and advanced to the second round of the playoffs, thanks to an extraordinary season by Harden, who finished the season averaging 29.1 points and 11.2 assists per game.

However, despite the success, the Rockets were still a better team with Howard than without.

After they became one of the league’s most respected defenders during Howard’s tenure, the Rockets regressed into one of the worst defensive teams last season giving up 109.6 points per game.

With Howard on the court during the playoffs, perhaps the Houston Rockets could have defeated the San Antonio Spurs in the second round. Remember, Howard was at his best with multiple three-point shooters around the arc. Just ask the 2009 members of the Orlando Magic.

Although it has been more than a year since D12 last played for the Rockets, it’s hard not to imagine the possibilities of what Howard and Harden could have been if they had put their differences aside. Possibly similar to the way Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal did during the early 2000’s.

Shaq and Kobe had eight great seasons together in Los Angeles and became one of the greatest duos ever assembled in sports history.

Like Howard, Shaq was a gifted physical specimen who could dominate on both ends of the floor. Similar to Harden, Bryant was a ball dominant guard who could light up the scoreboard on any given night.

Although they would go on to win three consecutive championships, it took Shaq and Kobe four years before they learned how to win with each other.

In fact, their relationship was at its worst during their first three years as teammates. Their lack of chemistry caused the Lakers to lose three consecutive playoff series. Which includes back-to-back eliminations to the Utah Jazz in 1997 & 1998.

Despite their estranged relationship, Shaq and Kobe finally put their differences aside during the 1999-00 season and won their first of three championships. When there are two dominant, alpha-males on the same team, winning a championship did not come overnight, and there were a few problems.

Shaq and Kobe went through the struggle, the same way Howard and Harden did. The only difference is that the Lakers did not give up on their All-Star twosome the way the Rockets did.

It’s likely Howard and Harden would have never been as dominant as Shaq and Kobe, but the potential was there.

In the three years where they were teammates, Houston had possessed the fifth best record in the NBA at 151-95. According to USA Today’s Sam Amick, based on the average of point total, rebounds, and assists, Howard, and Harden were the fourth most productive duo during the 2015-16 season.

Yes, even in their worst season as teammates, Howard and Harden were still an unstoppable duo.

Next: Rockets: Five early roster predictions for the 2017-18 season

If Howard and Harden had called a truce, perhaps Houston would have another title added to their name. Unfortunately, this doublet has gone down as one of the biggest “what ifs” in franchise history.