The most prominent free agent available this summer, Dwight Howard, will officially become the focus of any and all basketball-related stories later today. While Chris Paul is probably a bigger potential difference-maker, he has made it clear to numerous sources that he plans to remain with the Los Angeles Clippers. Howard has made no such pledge to the Los Angeles Lakers.
According to trustworthy basketball people in the know, which in NBA circles is code for Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, the Houston Rockets “have emerged as the frontrunners to sign the free agent center” and will likely pitch him on some combination of the franchise being a contender and the way they’ll tailor their system around him.
The Atlanta Hawks and Golden State Warriors will also attempt to lure in Howard, but the latter squad has no cap space to sign him and the former hasn’t piqued his interest in the slightest up to this point. That leaves the Rockets, Lakers and Dallas Mavericks as the only legitimate options.
"He wants to make a decision based on basketball more than anything else," a source with knowledge of Howard's thinking told Wojnarowski.
Presuming that’s true, and we have no way of being certain that it is because up to this point Howard has shown very little actual interest in winning a title, then one can’t help but wonder why the Rockets are such frontrunners for his services. Yes, the franchise has a nice little nucleus in place. They also failed to beat a depleted Oklahoma City Thunder team in the playoffs. Houston literally got as far this season as a Lakers club missing its best players and hobbled by injures from the second game of the regular season onward.
Are the Rockets 'closer' to winning a title than the Lakers? Maybe. The latter franchise boasts a Kobe Bryant who is coming off a brutal injury; a Pau Gasol who has been a shell of his former self for three years now; and a Steve Nash who is pretty much unrecognizable at this point in both appearance and play. Can Howard, James Harden and Chandler Parsons form a nice little Big 2.25? Possibly.
Let’s assume the worst – the Lakers will stink next year.
Who here thinks that a franchise which hasn’t won a title since 1995 and went 10 years without winning 50 games after that will win a championship before the Lakers? Mind you, the Lakers dump the vast majority of their bad deals next year, and whatever remains gets dumped a year after that. With no Kobe to drive people away and a leadership vacuum, will it really be that difficult for arguably the most decorated franchise in NBA history to bring in stars?
It’s worth remembering: this isn’t the first time Houston has been dubbed a ‘favorite’ to acquire Howard. Last year, before L.A. ultimately got him, the Rockets were at one point seen as the favorites to land him. We all remember how that turned out.
If Howard’s primary objective is getting the hell away from Kobe and Mike D’Antoni – yes Houston makes a lot of sense. If it is winning a championship, however, then it’s difficult to see how signing with the Rockets puts him in better position to do that than staying with the Lakers.
As far as the Mavericks go: they can offer $30 million less than the Lakers and no legitimate contending roster to speak of. Contrary to what anyone says, they’re as much of a contender for Howard’s services as the Hawks.