The NBA’s best big man casts his biggest shadow in the media where speculation over his future has been ongoing since….. Well, for a long time now.
Dwight Howard is for the first time during the ongoing saga that has been dubbed “Dwightmare”, an unrestricted free agent as of July 1. What is going through his head and what offers are on the table are unpredictable and the constant subject of every report with his name in the headline.
Folks in Los Angeles will feel confident that he’ll remain a Laker, offering the star a lucrative deal and a chance to play for one of the league’s greatest franchises, not to mention the lifestyle of living in sunny Southern California. It’s certainly a very alluring offer and one that Howard will have to consider heavily before he makes his final decision, one that I believe will be to exit Los Angeles.
At the end of the day, Howard wants a team where he is the center of everything. He knows he needs some help from a co-star, but this season was the first time he ever had to play second fiddle to another player and he didn’t seem to enjoy himself the way he usually does on the court. Getting out of the shadow of Kobe Bryant will take years, but escaping the shadow of Shaquille O’Neal could take years and championships, a burden Howard may not want to take on in a Laker uniform.
It’s also been reported that Howard feels he has been marginalized by Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni which makes sense. D’Antonio has never successfully coached a team with a dominant big man. As coach of the New York Knicks he was handed Tyson Chandler, but he was let go as Knicks head coach in February of 2012. With this Laker team, D’Antoni not only has Howard, but Pau Gasol to think of, more big men than his fast paced offensive system is used to.
If Howard is off to a new location, it’s believed to be one of a handful of destinations that include Houston, Dallas, Atlanta and possibly even Golden State where he is expected to draw some interest, although how the Warriors could unload Andrew Bogut in order to free up the money is a big question to answer. So let’s take a look at what each of the other, more realistic potential destinations can offer him.
The Rockets could sign Howard right now and not have to trade any part of the lineup that snuck into this year’s playoffs as a No. 8 seed. A candidate for MVP in my book, James Harden could make the perfect back court teammate for Howard as he isn’t an attention hungry superstar who needs to be face of every billboard. He’d rather win and take a backseat to Howard before crying over having his limelight being taken.
Houston can also offer Howard a solid pick and roll partner in Jeremy Lin, a role the guard excelled in New York but couldn’t find a stable partner for in his first year as a Rocket. With only $38 million committed to salary, the Rockets can actually hang on to Omer Asik for another season to either back up Howard or give him a chance at power forward. The team will undoubtedly pick up the option they have on Chandler Parsons for the next two seasons in which he will make less than $1 million in each season.
What Houston can offer is exactly what Howard wants, a team that can compete for a title with his addition and do it right now. Harden is already a superstar and Lin is still budding into the talent he’s going to become. With a player like Howard, the Rockets can improve their defense which was one of the worst in the NBA this season and continue to develop their offense which was the best in the NBA this season. This might be an offer that is too tempting to say no to, especially when you consider that it would hand Howard unfettered access to former Rocket legend Hakeem Olajuwon.
The Mavericks have a few things going for them. First is an owner who has no qualms about spending money. Mark Cuban can offer Howard a max deal without any worries, especially if he can find a new home for the expiring $9 million contract of Shawn Marion.
The Mavericks have Dirk Nowitzki locked up for another year, will hope to return O.J. Mayo and still have the services of Howard’s former teammate and friend from Orlando, Vince Carter. It’s conceivable that Cuban will also make a push for a point guard and if he could land one before Howard makes his decision, he could sway the center toward joining a club that is only a few years removed from its last title.
While Howard would have to share the limelight with Nowitzki for at least a season, he would be widely considered the future of the franchise and wouldn’t by any means be overshadowed by the Big German or whatever guard the team signs. But, the Mavs, as of right now, don’t have the salary cap freedom and depth of Houston, so Howard would have to be willing to be part of a project and may even have to be patient and allow the team to rebuild after Nowitzki’s contract expires next season. That makes the Mavs somewhat of a long shot.
Nobody in the free agent market has the type of money the Hawks have to spend. General Manager Danny Ferry has all of $18 million committed to next season and Atlanta is expected to offer two different players max contracts before worrying about the role players they are going to surround them with, something a recent letter to potential season ticket buyers from Hawks management let slip when it stated that both Howard and Chris Paul are targets for the team.
The Hawks could sign Howard and retain Al Horford to play the power forward spot, or they could trade Horford and free up yet another $12 million in a complete overhaul. The Hawks financial freedom and the fact that Atlanta is Howard’s hometown is enough to have them be in the conversation, but not necessarily hand them the edge. Howard hasn’t indicated whether playing in his hometown is something he finds tempting, but one has to believe that Atlanta is in his thoughts until the star center says otherwise. If they can provide him a chance to play with Paul, it may be all he needs to inspire a return A-Town where his homecoming makes him the bigger story than Paul.
Those two combining with Horford is a dangerous lineup and whatever they surround the trio with would make Atlanta the new favorite to compete with Miami for the Eastern Conference title.
Whatever happens with Howard hinges mostly on winning. I can almost guarantee that a new suitor will unveil itself before long as a potential destination for Howard, but who that will be and what it will take to get him there remains to be seen. This summer’s free agent class isn’t the best we’ve ever seen by any means, but it should certainly prove entertaining if Howard ends up anywhere other than Los Angeles.