NBA 2013 Free Agency: Grading Dallas Mavericks' Chance of Landing Dwight Howard
Although Howard had been wary about playing anywhere other than Brooklyn this season, the Lakers looked like a perfect fit for the 27-year-old superstar.
With one of the greatest players ever in Kobe Bryant, one of the best point guards in Steve Nash and All-Star Pau Gasol already on board, adding Howard, the consensus best center in the NBA today, would easily make the Lakers the favorites to take the Western Conference and be the top challengers for the Heat's NBA title.
Needless to say, things haven't quite turned out in a way anyone could have expected for Howard or the Lakers this season.
The Lakers currently sit at just 24-27, 10th place in the Western Conference. They already have gone though a well-publicized coaching change, and they have nothing but a below-average NBA team this season to show for all the big moves they made in the offseason.
Howard is having an extremely pedestrian year numbers-wise as well. D12 is averaging just 11.8 rebounds and 16.2 points per game, the lowest for him since the 2005-06 season.
For the first time in his career, Howard is having to deal with not being the man on offense. There aren't too many players in the league that Howard would have to play second fiddle too, but Kobe Bryant is certainly one of them.
Because of the team's struggles, as well as his own, there has been plenty of speculation that Howard will not return to the Lakers after this season.
After all, Howard does become a free agent after this year, and will likely be the most sought-after free agent in the NBA this offseason.
Despite the team being three games under .500, the Lakers have announced that they will not be trading Howard this season and will play out the year with Howard in a Lakers uniform.
Therefore, it will be entirely Howard's decision about where he will be playing next year.
But what teams have a realistic chance of landing Howard next year if he chooses not to come back to LA?
Enter the Dallas Mavericks.
The Mavericks are having just as disappointing a season as the Lakers, and just two years removed from their historic NBA championship are almost completely dismantled from when they were at their best.
However, although the Mavs may not be going anywhere this year, they have a ton of flexibility moving forward.
Only four Mavericks players, Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion, Jared Cunningham and Jae Crowder, have guaranteed contracts next season. Marion will likely be traded this year to free up his $9.3 million responsibility, and Cunningham and Crowder are on rookie contracts.
That means that the only real money the Mavericks will have invested for next year is Dirk Nowitzki's contract, which runs at $22.7 million.
Long story short, the Mavericks are one of the teams who will no doubt have enough cap room to sign Dwight Howard this offseason.
Will Dwight Howard End Up in Dallas Next Season?
But would Howard have any real interest in signing with Dallas? Well the Mavericks certainly seem to think he would, plus sources in the league seem to be in agreement that the Mavericks would top Howard's list if he does decide to leave Los Angeles.
Although the Mavericks may not offer the benefit of being able to live in the city of Los Angeles, or being able to play for as storied a franchise as the Lakers, they do have Dirk Nowitzki, who paired with Howard would be a pretty amazing frontcourt duo that would put the Mavs right in the title hunt.
Plus, with Nowitzki aging as he is, it wouldn't be necessarily the scenario as it is with Kobe where Howard would be forced to take a smaller role than he is comfortable with on offense.
Also, Howard would able to play under Mark Cuban, who would do everything in his power to keep Howard happy, and Rick Carlisle, who is one of the most experienced coaches in the NBA.
With Howard and Nowitzki, the Mavericks would still be able to sign at least one more All-Star-caliber player from the wing that would create a big three moving forward.
O.J. Mayo, who is the team's leading scorer right now, would seem like the best option. But there are plenty of directions the team could go.
Still, even with all they have to offer Howard, it is far from a sure thing that Howard will end up in Dallas. For starters, the Lakers have the ability to offer Howard more money than the Mavericks can. LA can offer Howard a five-year contract worth about $118 million, while Dallas and most other teams would only be able to max out at about $88 over four years for Howard's services.
Plus, the Lakers and the Mavericks are not the only two teams who will be making a serious push for Howard this offseason.
Houston is also a serious possibility. Rockets GM Daryl Morey's attempt to land Dwight Howard this offseason was well-publicized, but Howard had expressed no interest in going there. However, since the Rockets landed James Harden and became the most prolific scoring team in the NBA, Howard has apparently done a 180 on his stance on potentially playing in Houston.
There is always a chance another NBA team could get into the mix, but right now it appears that one of those four teams will end up with Dwight Howard next season.
Dallas may not be the favorites right now (for the time being it is still the Lakers), but the Mavericks still have an excellent chance of acquiring Howard.
Dallas may have hurt themselves with their poor play this season, but if they can convince Howard that they can become a championship contender with him on the team he could sway back to wanting to play in Dallas.
How the rest of the season plays out will of course have a large impact on where Dwight Howard ends up for the next four or five years. However, if the Lakers continue to struggle like they have, and Howard continues to get more and more frustrated in the direction the team is taking, he could very well try his options in the offseason, and settle on Dallas.
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