COMMENTARY | Up by two over the Los Angeles Lakers with less than a minute to play on Nov. 7, Houston's Chandler Parsons made an in-bounding mistake that would cost the Rockets the game.
Parsons threw the ball to Dwight Howard, who was promptly fouled by Pau Gasol. Howard then proceeded to miss two free throws. The Lakers got the ball back with three seconds left on the clock -- enough time for Steve Blake to hit the game-winning three-pointer.
Howard had 15 points and 14 rebounds, as well as a nice block in the fateful final minute that should have sealed the game. But his 6-for-15 free-throw performance decided a contest the Rockets should have won. Coming back from 14 down after the Lakers' three-point-happy offense inevitably cooled, Houston would have pulled away in the fourth quarter had the Lakers not been able to repeatedly send Howard to the line.
Message to NBA general managers: A career free-throw percentage of less than 70 percent has to be a bigger red flag than it already is.
I know I'm hardly the first one to say this, but Houston is paying $88 million over the next four seasons for a center who it can't have touch the ball in crunch time.
Houston, for better or word, is stuck with Howard, the free-agent "prize" it poached from the Lakers over the summer. But the Howard case study has relevance for Los Angeles' other NBA team.
The Clippers need to trade DeAndre Jordan, also an athletically gifted big man who has trouble at the line. Jordan is an even worse free-throw shooter than Howard, with a career percentage of just 42.6 percent. With power forward Blake Griffin shooting only 61 percent from the line over his career, the entire Clippers' front line is a liability in crunch time. Both players are athletic defenders, but they poison the offense when you need it most.
One of them has to go, and it should be Jordan, who is set to make around $22.4 million through next season.
It's not like the Clippers haven't thought about it. They aggressively shopped Jordan to Boston over the summer, trying not only to acquire head coach Doc Rivers but also the aging Kevin Garnett, who ended up in New Jersey.
That trade didn't work out, but it would have probably been better for the Clippers to have the 37-year-old future Hall of Famer with bad knees. Not only would he have brought championship experience, but he also shoots a respectable 79 percent from the line. That matters.
I can read the trollage right now -- how Shaquille O'Neal won four titles, despite shooting just under 53 percent from the line over his career.
Of course, O'Neal averaged nearly 28 points a game during his dominant 2000-2002 three-peat run with the Lakers, which overcame a lot. And it's easy to forget his minutes and scoring average dipped over the ensuing years, not just because of age but also because he became more and more of a liability. By the time O'Neal won his last title in 2005-06 with the Miami Heat, he was playing just over 30 minutes a game -- down from nearly 40 five years earlier. Pat Riley really had to pick and choose the moments he left the game's highest-paid player out on the court late in games.
I'm not saying Howard or Jordan have no value in the league. I'm merely stating that their salaries must be adjusted to account for their utility. And that utility is decidedly limited if a player can't shoot at least 70 percent from the line.
Daniel Frankel is the founder and editor-in-chief of TitleTownNews.org, the voice of Southern California sports.
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