While Howard's interviews with the Los Angeles media made him look like a man on a permanent public relations campaign, Harden quietly did his work on the floor, finishing fifth in the league in scoring and becoming a top-notch superstar in the process. Howard's season was a disappointment as the Lakers failed to live up to lofty expectations, but Harden's season was a year-long coming-out party.
With the outspoken, perplexing Howard coming to Houston to play alongside the soft-spoken, unassuming Harden, there's a growing excitement in Houston and a genuine interest by NBA fans to see what the Rockets can do with their new and improved lineup. Fans of the Orlando Magic and Lakers are wishing the worst upon Howard's newest team, and that should be expected with D12's antics over the last few seasons.
Over the summer, we've heard about how Jeremy Lin has changed and how Chandler Parsons helped bring Howard to Houston. But instead of basking in the media's magnifying glass, Harden has been lying in the weeds, existing outside of the media's long and gripping reach. It makes sense that Harden wouldn't become an international star in the conventional sense, as he doesn't sore above the competition with tomahawk dunks or spin around in a full circle when he throws behind-the-back passes. I'm sure Harden is fine with all that; winning is the main priority to him, and that's why Rockets fans should always be loyal to him.
Howard, on the other hand, wants to be liked and wants to live in the limelight (despite what Shaq says). If Mitch Kupchak handed the team over to Howard this offseason and amnestied Bryant (which obviously wasn't going to happen), Howard would have happily stayed in the bright lights of Hollywood, becoming a larger-than-life superstar, jumping into movies in cameo roles and landing in countless commercials to improve the net worth of his brand. When it became clear that Los Angeles wasn't going to abandon Bryant, Howard jumped ship to the Rockets, where he and Jeremy Lin would be the focal points of media attention, despite Harden being the definitive leader of the team.
On the court, the Harden and Howard combination is a must-see. Howard will protect the lane, score from the post, rebound at an impressive clip, and provide Houston with a stabilizing force in the middle. Harden will continue to pick defenses apart with his shooting, craftiness, strength and scoring, and the two will win a lot of games together, possibly leading the Rockets back to the promised land.
Off the court, Howard will be followed around by the Houston and national media, with each word that falls from his lips being printed, analyzed and twisted to fit a predetermined perspective. Howard wants to be the center of attention (pun intended), and there's no doubt in my mind that Harden considers that a weight off his shoulders.
Both Harden and Howard are elite players in this league, but their off-court personalities are polar opposites. After grueling losses, Howard will answer questions with a sullen look on his face, speaking softly and talking about how it's a team game. Harden will give similar answers, but he'll be spoken to for a shorter amount of time, as reporters will find bigger stories and better quotes out of Howard. Is there anything wrong with that? Of course not.
Harden is going to be the engine that makes this team go, while Howard will do most of the dirty work inside and answer the tough questions after the game. When it comes down to the final seconds of games and the Rockets need a bucket to win, there will be little doubt as to who will take the shot. Harden will lead by example, letting his talent do the talking, and Howard will run his mouth and provide sound interior play for a team desperate for such services.
The bottom line is that Harden will be the Rockets' quiet superstar and Howard will be an outspoken, overly dramatic, top-notch NBA center. The Beard and D12 could be a match made in heaven, but only time will tell if Howard becomes jealous and starts pouting.
My bets are on success -- early and often.
M. De Moor is an NBA junkie and a general columnist on Hoopshabit.com. He has followed the Rockets from the championship days of Hakeem Olajuwon, to the years of Francis and Mobley, to the McGrady and Yao era, and will continue to follow them through Harden and Dwight's reign of destruction.
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- Houston Rockets
- Dwight Howard
- James Harden