Dwight Howard (211 cm) is the most sought after player in NBA free agency. Three teams top his list of potential destinations and meetings for presentations and sales pitches have already been scheduled with the All-Star center. The teams are the Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Howard is a top-tier big man, a player almost any NBA franchise can build around. It comes as no surprise that teams that have the salary cap space to offer Howard a maximum deal are moving mountains just to entice him to join them in 2013-14. Even though he was dealing with back problems and other assorted little injuries during the 2012-13 season, Howard managed to play 80 games for the Los Angeles Lakers. He averaged 17.1 ppg, 12.4 rpg, and 2.4 bpg. He has the strength and athleticism to dominate most opposing big men in the paint. His only waterloo has been his poor free-throw shooting which is at a dismal 57.7% for his career. Nevertheless, teams are pulling out all the stops to assure him that his best chance to win a championship (soon) is with them.
The Houston Rockets’ GM Daryl Morey has already met with Howard. He brought coach Kevin McHale, former Rockets’ All-Stars and Hall-of-Famers Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, and current Rockets James Harden and Chandler Parsons to the meeting. Parsons has been in constant contact with Howard via text messaging throughout the latter parts of the NBA Finals and up to the final hours leading up to the meeting. The Rockets have already put the word out that they are putting point guard Jeremy Lin and Turkish center Omer Asik on the trade table. Sources say that Houston is selling the formation of a potential “Big 3” in Houston, teaming Dwight with Harden and purportedly Atlanta All-Star forward Josh Smith. The Rockets need to show Howard that they can be a fit for him. They’re offense is fast-paced, not really a fit for Howard’s isolation-in-the-paint style of play.
The Dallas Mavericks are next on Howard’s itinerary. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban will be joined by German forward Dirk Nowitzki in pitching to Howard their vision for the future. Dallas was supposedly high on Howard’s list due to the fact that he is expected to “inherit” the team from Dirk eventually and he would be the true focal point of the team’s offense. He also knows Cuban’s reputation for making big and bold moves if he can see a potential championship on the horizon. The Mavericks have also been recently linked to inquiries regarding the availability of Celtics’ guard Rajon Rondo in a trade. This is something that could be part of a master plan to excite Howard regarding his potential future with the team.
The Los Angeles Lakers, Howard’s current team, had requested for the opportunity to be scheduled last in his whirlwind schedule of meetings. Howard politely granted their request to make the last pitch. Aside from GM Mitch Kupchak, Kobe Bryant will make a personal appearance in the meeting to entice Howard to stay. From a financial perspective, the Lakers can offer Howard the biggest deal – five years worth $118 million. Other teams can only offer Howard a four-year deal worth $88 million. Howard has made it clear that he wants to win championships, so the dollar signs on his contract may not carry as much weight as they would to another player. Bryant, who is recovering very well from surgery to repair a torn achilles, expects to play for around 2-4 more years. He believes there’s still a chance for him and Howard to be championship-winning tandem together. He did, after all, accomplish it with Shaquille O’Neal. Those championships, however, were won under the leadership of Phil Jackson. Howard struggled under the system of incumbent head coach Mike D’Antoni, so that may play a role in his decision as well.
Sources expect Dwight Howard to announce his decision on July 10th, the first day he can actually sign with an NBA team. Howard is being lauded for his more straightforward and professional approach in dealing with his free agency, a far cry from his indecision regarding his future with the Orlando Magic. Once the dust has settled and Howard has been signed, these teams can move forward in charting their future for 2013-14.