Dwight Howard era begins
This time last year, the expectations in Red Nation were much different.
James Harden was still with the Oklahoma City Thunder and Dwight Howard was with his new team, the storied Los Angeles Lakers, with the hopes of starting another winning tradition.
But now it's a new era in Houston. The Rockets enter a highly anticipated season with these two All-Stars leading the charge as the team hit the court for its very first practices on Saturday as they opened training camp. With eight new faces, no one comes in with higher expectations than the superstar Howard. Even though he and a core group of players already started working together over the summer, which helped them ease into training camp more easily, the guys know it's just the beginning.
“I think we all felt pretty good, but right now we can’t think about being comfortable,” Howard said. “We have to think about how hard we can push each other to get better and that’s going to be the key. We don’t have time to be comfortable.”
“It went well,” said Rockets forward Chandler Parsons of Howard’s first official practice with the team. “He’s pretty easy. He’s a quick learner. A lot of stuff is around him so it might take a little bit of time, but he’s a smart guy and he’s been playing in the league for so long, he’ll catch on quick.”
When Howard was asked if it was human nature to come in and show his new team what he's got, the seasoned veteran quickly shot that down.
“I just want to go out there and get acclimated with the new team and do what I do best,” Howard said. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to show these guys besides working hard and coming in and showing how dedicated I am as one of the leaders on the team.”
The first of two practices on Saturday was light with no contact and focused on the basics, particularly on defense, something the three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year knows a thing or two about. And Howard’s teammates are stoked about what the big man brings to the team, offensively and defensively.
“We all know what he’s capable of and what he does – definitely the best shot blocker in the game and he alters a lot of shots as well,” All-Star guard James Harden said. “He helps us out a lot protecting the basket.
“With any new team you’ve got learn different sets, so that takes a couple days, but we’ve been talking all summer every day about defense and how we need to rotate and where I need to be, but my biggest job is to protect the paint.”
One of the big reasons Howard chose Houston was his previous relationship with Rockets legendary big man Hakeem Olajuwon, who was at practice working with the faces of the franchise.
“Me and Dream have been working together for years,” Howard said. “He’s committed. He’s been with me since day one talking to me, encouraging me, coming to practice, flying to Aspen – he’s doing all the things to show how committed he is to us winning.”
Howard closed out the morning session shooting free throws. Before each season, he makes a list of goals, and his main three this year are to shoot at least 75-80 percent from the line, earn Defensive Player of the Year for a fourth time, and help lead the Rockets to an NBA championship.