On Saturday night Dwight Howard’s Houston Rockets were outclassed 104-78 by the Golden State Warriors in their opening playoff game of the year.
The game had a sense of what may happen for the rest of this first round Western Conference series, even with Steph Curry questionable for game two after tweaking his ankle.
So, what has happened to the Houston side which is virtually identical to last season’s team, which tested the Warriors in the Western Conference finals, and why is Howard’s future in doubt?
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Ever since the start of this campaign, this Rockets team has been unrecognisable compared to their 2014-15 side, even though almost all of the players involved are the same.
They came out of the blocks slowly and after just 11 games, the franchise’s management team had seen enough and made the move to fire Kevin McHale. This was in spite of that fact the team had been successful for the four years under McHale, and, eventually managed to scrape into the playoffs on the last night of the regular season this term.
Firing their coach was unlikely to help Howard, as McHale, an NBA legend as one of the greatest big-men of all time, constantly emphasised the need to get power forwards and center’s involved, having been one himself.
Without McHale, and with JB Bickerstaff taking over the position of head coach, Howard was forced to take a lesser role in the offense, taking fewer than ten shots per game for only the second time of his career – the first being his rookie season in 2004.
It appeared that the former L.A Lakers man was not comfortable with this and even after last night’s playoff loss, when asked about his lack of time with the ball, he forced out the political answer: “I can’t get frustrated, I’ve just got to find a way through it. If I don’t get the ball, try to find another way to get it.”
That sounds like a man who is not happy with his current role in Houston, and why should he be? For most of February, Howard was linked with a move away from the Rockets, who were reportedly trying to rid themselves of their center at the trade deadline.
Since the deadline passed after the All-Star break, Howard has then been utilised even less by the Rockets, taking just 7.9 shot attempts per game, almost as if the franchise are trying to subtly tell him they do not want to retain his services next season.
Howard is a free agent this summer and will surely come under immense scrutiny. His numbers have been reducing in the past two seasons and he has suffered various injuries in his time since leaving Orlando in 2012.
But that does not mean that Howard cannot still do a good job for many teams if utilised in a better way, and, with the salary cap increase coming this summer, there are surely a number of sides that may be willing to give him one final max contract.
Even though he has a lot of mileage on his body, Howard is still just 30 years old and if he can stay healthy - which is the big question mark - he can provide great rebounding, shot blocking and an option to score down low in the post for a team.
Reports even surfaced earlier this year that Howard and James Harden, the Rockets other star player - who has taken over the team instead of Dwight in the last two seasons - asked to get each other traded, a fact Rockets CEO Tad Brown denied.
Even so, there is clear discomfort in Houston, with few around the NBA predicting that Howard will remain at the franchise after this summer. Where he lands will then become the next topic of conversation, and rumours will surely begin to fly around the moment that Houston - as currently expected - exit the playoffs.
Washington, Atlanta and Boston were three of the sides interested in Howard at the trade deadline, so could be the most likely landing spots upon the time free agency opens, but others may be waiting to make their move, with even a dream move back to Orlando a possibility.
However, for now, Howard must continue to focus on the playoffs and trying to find a way to beat the Golden State Warriors. If not, his time in Houston may be about to come to an abrupt end.