With Dwight Howard scheduled to hit free agency in the summer of 2013, he will have the possibility to sign with a team of his choosing, and so we will focus on all the pertinent details needed to understand his options.
Howard’s first alternative may very well be to re-sign with his current team, the Los Angeles Lakers, given that no other squad in the Association will be able to provide him with a richer contract. Indeed, the Purple and Gold will be able to offer him approximately $117 million over the course of five years to retain his services.
It seems like a no-brainer for Mitch Kupchak to present such an incredible amount to the three-time Defensive Player of the Year, but considering that he has yet to resemble the player he was two years ago due to injury and that some of his teammates have openly questioned his toughness, one can only wonder if the Lakers would in fact present Howard with a maximum contract type offer.
In addition, Dwight Howard has made it known on multiple occasions that he wishes to have fun on the basketball court, and that just hasn’t happened this season with the Lakers, hence opening the door for other teams to start a bidding war.
The rest of the NBA will be operating from a position of weakness in comparison to the Los Angeles Lakers given that only his current team can present him with a five-year contract offer, whereas other teams with sufficient cap space only have the option of offering him a four-year contract for a maximum of approximately $87 million.
According to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, the Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks are expected to be heavy suitors for the services of the seven-time All-Star, and there are multiple scenarios where it would in fact be possible for him to join either team.
Mind you, there are still two potential dark horses that could emerge with legitimate chances of landing the stud center: the Brooklyn Nets and Houston Rockets.
Max Weisberg of The Brooklyn Game posted a transcript of a conversation in which ESPN.com’s Stephen A. Smith recently shared with Ryan Ruocco this interesting little nugget about Howard’s potential future destination:
I had a reliable source tell me this...Dwight Howard will categorically deny it, but i trust my source...when they were playing Toronto recently, he sat there on the court and told Rudy Gay, 'You messed up bad man. You should have waited and ended up with me in Brooklyn next year'. That's what he told him.
Although the Los Angeles Lakers never played against Rudy Gay while he was wearing a Toronto Raptors uniform, this isn’t the first time that Howard has been linked to Brooklyn, thus one has to consider the possibility that it is in fact a destination that still interests him.
Given that the Nets are over the salary cap, the only way that Howard could bring his services to their franchise would be via a sign-and-trade with the Lakers. This option isn’t exactly a slam dunk either considering the assets that the Purple and Gold would have to acquire in order to facilitate this transaction.
The Lakers would more than likely have to take back Brook Lopez or Kris Humphries in a deal with multiple players involved. However, Lopez’s contract at present time still has four years remaining on it, and the franchise that gave us Showtime has made it clear that they intend to have an abundance of cap space for the offseason of 2014 because LeBron James may become available that summer.
Hence, the Nets are part of the discussion, but they aren’t exactly an open and shut case as it pertains to Howard joining them and him also benefitting from a lucrative contract offer.
This leaves us with the Houston Rockets.
Not much has been made about Houston’s chances at snatching the big man, but they could very well be in the discussion. At present time, they project to have the necessary cap space required to sign the former Orlando resident, and in addition they have a star in James Harden to pair alongside him to make the Rockets a potential Western Conference contender should Howard ever regain his form from two seasons ago.
Houston head coach Kevin McHale favors an up-tempo style of offense where his players get to put up as many shots as they desire. Considering that Howard has allegedly been unhappy with the Lakers’ offense because it does not feature him enough, the Rockets may prove to be an attractive destination given the way they play and share the ball.
That last point may very well be the most important one.
Dwight Howard’s attitude coupled with his body language suggests that he has been unhappy in Los Angeles, and it’s entirely possible that the team getting him to sign on the dotted line this summer will sell him on three things in no particular order: a maximum contract (whether it’s four years or five in length), an opportunity to compete for a title and a chance to be happy once again.
And as Jeff Van Gundy shared with Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel, perhaps his happiness lies in a smaller market:
I think he thought he wanted a big market, but I think what he’s realizing is that he needs a smaller environment where the fans and media overlook whatever weaknesses he has.
Once July 2013 arrives, Howard will be presented with a vast amount of options as it pertains to his future in the NBA, and if these last two seasons are any indication, it promises to be a difficult decision for the talented center.
But maybe, just maybe the one team that will be able to sell him on the idea that they will follow a blueprint similar to the one the Orlando Magic (smaller expectations and team built around him) used when he played for them might get him to sign a contract.
His situation would have come full-circle and he would get an opportunity to press the reset button with a new team.
In an odd way, that might just be everything we need to know about Dwight Howard’s soon to come free agency tour.
J.M. Poulard is a featured columnist and he can also be found on Twitter under the handle name @ShyneIV.