Dwight Howard has five NBA teams waiting. The Los Angeles Lakers, Atlanta Hawks, Dallas Mavericks, Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets have made their cases to the free agent center, and by all accounts, most of them gave good pitches. Howard has unfinished business in Los Angeles. Atlanta is his hometown and the longtime employer of friend Josh Smith. The Warriors have a lot of nice pieces, even if a necessary sign-and-trade might send a couple to the Lakers. Dirk Nowitzki and Rick Carlisle have the rings to prove Dallas is a good fit.
But it's the Rockets who probably have been labeled the frontrunners. It's for good reason.
Selfless star power
The Rockets have been making moves this offseason to clear cap space in anticipation of signing Howard, but the first move attempting to land the big man and giving him the best possible landing spot came before the 2012-13 season. General manager Daryl Morey nabbed James Harden from the Oklahoma City Thunder in a trade, giving Howard the shooting guard help that makes Houston an immediate contender.
If there were ever a way to topple LeBron James and the Miami Heat -- let alone the Spurs, Thunder and Clippers in the West -- having a big-small combo would be the way. It would compete with the Tony Parker and Tim Duncan duo in San Antonio, the Chris Paul and Blake Griffin twosome in Los Angeles and the Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant coupling in Oklahoma City.
Harden, the NBA's third-leading scorer last season, has established himself as one of the best players in the league, but more importantly, he's shown the willingness to play as a sidekick in Oklahoma City.
It's expected Harden's efficiency will only improve with a new All-Star teammate drawing the eyes of opposing defenses. The one-two punch of Howard and Harden is enough to push the Rockets over the top. The selflessness of Harden will make it work.
A supporting cast led by Chandler Parsons is seemingly pre-fit for Howard's arrival. Coach Kevin McHale played fast and smart on offense last season, ranking first in pace and sixth in offensive points per 100 possessions, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
Houston took the most three-pointers per game in the league -- 28.9 per game, which tied them with the Knicks -- and was in the top 10 in accuracy. The Rockets spread the court with four shooters on the court at a time, a practice that will only become more dangerous for opponents if they play inside-outside with Howard at center.
Additionally, the Rockets weren't all that shabby on defense. Houston ranked in the middle of the pack at No. 16 in opponent points per 100 possessions. Though last year's starting center Omer Asik is well above average as a rim-protecting big man, Howard is still an upgrade. And just because of his background, McHale knows defense can win championships.
The other factors
Houston might've made one of the best pitches to Howard because of the above, but it was probably easy for other reasons. The tradition of big men over the last two decades was part of the case made. Hakeem Olajuwon, who won titles in Houston, and star Yao Ming still have connections to the Rockets' organization and their help in recruiting Howard helps establish the idea that he'll be next in line. It reinforced that the city of Houston will be a home.
That levels the playing field with the Lakers and Mavericks, and it gives the Rockets an advantage over Atlanta and Golden State.
And from a marketing standpoint, the Rockets have all the potential in terms of international marketing with Yao and Jeremy Lin having boosted the team's following in East Asia.
Furthermore, playing in Texas has its advantages financially. Only the Lakers can offer Howard a longer deal, but much of that can be made up because of Texas' lack of state income tax laws. Obviously, Dallas falls into this category as well.