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Amidst the Houston Rockets' Early-Season Struggles, Dwight Howard Has Been Worth Every Penny So Far

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COMMENTARY | Yes, I'm aware that it's far too early in the season to make any type of judgment on any team, or any player for that matter. And, yes, the Houston Rockets have gotten off to a slow start.

But it's not too early to say that the Dwight Howard signing has been working out so far.

The numbers may not be telling: Through 9 games, Howard has led the Rockets to a rather disappointing 5-4 start, with his individual numbers not too staggering. He's just 4th among centers in points per game (18.2) and 5th in blocked shots, but he does lead the league in rebounding at 14.9 per game.

Let's be clear on this: I don't think Dwight Howard is a franchise player anymore (if he ever was one in the first place). There are just too many flaws in his game for a team to build around him: lack of a low-post game, horrendous free-throw percentage, and the label that may stick with him forever of not having leadership qualities.

But the Rockets aren't looking for him to be the franchise player when they arguably have the best shooting guard in the NBA in James Harden. They're not looking for the 20-plus points, 14 rebounds per night that Howard was putting up with the Orlando Magic. Instead, they're looking for him to be the missing complementary piece to James Harden, the guardian of the paint defensively, and the low-post finisher on a team with plenty of penetrating guards who drive the lane and look to pass it to him near the basket.

The early-season performances that Howard has put up so far are staggering: 17 points and 26 rebounds in the Rockets' opening-night win over the Charlotte Bobcats, 29 points and 13 rebounds in a win over the Portland Trail Blazers, 18 points and 24 rebounds in a double-overtime win over the Toronto Raptors, and a 23-point, 16-rebound performance in a heartbreaking loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.

The NBA is in an era where teams most likely need more than one star on the roster to win a title. Just look at the recent past champions: The San Antonio Spur's Big 3 of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili in 2007; the Boston Celtics' Big 3 of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen in 2008; Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol for the Los Angeles Lakers in 2009 and 2010; and the Big 3 of the Miami Heat in the past 2 seasons. The lone exception came in 2011 when Dirk Nowitzki led the Dallas Mavericks on their memorable playoff run.

That's where Howard's presence comes in: neither he nor Harden can reach that next level by himself. Howard had to find that out the hard way when his Magic lost to the Lakers in the '09 Finals, while Harden was shut down by the Heat in the '12 Finals as the main option in the Thunder's 2nd unit.

While the Rockets' struggles are more team-oriented, there's always a natural feeling-out process that a team must go through with the addition of new pieces. If Howard can continue this level of play throughout the season, expect the Rockets to still be playing in May.

Michael Ma covers the Houston Rockets as an editor for Rockets blog Space City Scoop, and as a columnist for Rocketssocial.com. He's been a basketball junkie since the Illegal Defense rule was still in effect. You can follow Michael on twitter @RealMichaelMa.

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