Come the 2013 NBA offseason, no individual will generate quite as much attention as unrestricted free agent Dwight Howard. The All-Star center is prepared to enter free agency after more than two calendar years of uncertainty as to what his future will hold.
The question is, where would the best potential destinations be for D-12?
Howard, a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, has experienced nothing short of turbulence during his past two seasons in the NBA. From trade demands to underwhelming on-the-court production to career-altering back surgery, we've seen it all.
Even still, Howard is one of, if not the most highly-touted free agents in 2013.
Howard's resume speaks for itself, as his three Defensive Player of the Year awards are met with seven All-Star Game appearances and six All-NBA selections. Even during a down season in 2012-13, D-12 led the NBA in rebounding and ranked in the top five in blocked shots.
Yes, that's a down season.
Having led the league in rebounds five times and blocks another two, it's safe to say Howard is deserving of the praise he receives. Even if the Los Angeles Lakers and Orlando Magic have struggled to cope with his recent antics, D-12 is an elite center.
Even as we fish for ways to bestow this label upon other big men, Howard may just be the best center of our generation—so where should he end up?
During a recent interview with Fitzsimmons and Durrett on 103.3 KESN-FM, Marc Stein of ESPN labeled the Dallas Mavericks as one of the teams with an opportunity to sign Dwight Howard (via The Dallas Morning News). Before Mavs fans jump the gun, the chances of Howard joining the Mavs are slim.
With that being said, this is what owner Mark Cuban has been building towards for virtually two seasons—don't expect him to let this opportunity slip away without a fight.
The Mavericks certainly present an interesting situation for Howard, as he would potentially play alongside legendary power forward Dirk Nowitzki. Seeing as Nowitzki led the Dallas Mavericks to the 2011 NBA championship alongside Tyson Chandler, there's no reason we couldn't see a repeat.
There aren't many players left from that squad, but building around Howard, Nowitzki and, potentially, O.J. Mayo isn't a bad start.
Shawn Marion is unlikely to turn down upwards of $9.0 million in 2013-14, thus providing Dallas with an elite perimeter defender. Assuming they land a franchise point guard, D-12 could lead the Mavs right back into title contention.
Keep in mind, Dallas went 28-18 to close out the 2012-13 NBA season after Dirk battled injuries early in the year. They did so being led by Darren Collison and Chris Kaman at point guard and center, respectively.
Howard would make this team a legitimate title contender and there's no question about it.
In the previously alluded to interview, Marc Stein stated that the team most likely to steal Dwight Howard from the Los Angeles Lakers is the Houston Rockets. This comes as no surprise, as Houston has a significant amount of cap space.
They also boast a superstar in James Harden and took the Oklahoma City Thunder to six games without any form of defense—intrigued?
If D-12 were to end up in Houston, he would immediately become the anchor for a team that ranked second in scoring offense. With a young core including Harden, Chandler Parsons and top five draft choice Thomas Robinson, the future is certainly bright.
Keep in mind, both Harden and Jeremy Lin specialize in running the pick-and-roll as facilitators.
In Houston, there would be no superiority complex along the perimeter, as the offense would run through D-12. Harden would clearly be the go-to scorer, but Howard's presence offensively would be significantly greater than it was in L.A.
If that's not enough, the Rockets would have a valuable trade piece in Omer Asik to provide Howard with even more firepower if need be. This is a young team with promise and an active general manager, folks.
As long as Houston commits to building their defense, there isn't a better fit for Howard in terms of basketball reasoning.
Los Angeles Lakers
The Los Angeles Lakers may have experienced a turbulent season, but there is no reason for Dwight Howard to rule them out as an option. Not only are the Lakers one of the most decorated franchises in all of professional sports, but they hold a significant edge over the competition.
They own Howard's bird rights and can thus offer a longer and more lucrative contract.
Due to the income tax laws in California and Texas, the pay differential wouldn't be significant. For a player with a history of back and shoulder injuries, however, job security is of the utmost importance.
L.A., in position to lose their second franchise center in as many years, is likely to gamble with a large amount of guaranteed money for D-12's services.
Per the previously alluded to interview with Marc Stein of ESPN, the Lakers are expected to re-sign Howard. Not only do they provide him with the best form of a contract, but they place Howard in an unparalleled situation for success.
Even if they fail to win in 2013-14 with Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol, all three of those players will become free agents and thus present L.A. with the opportunity to reload.
For those pessimists out there, note that the Lakers went 28-12 to close out the 2012-13 regular season. They were 10-2 during their final 12 games and likely would have given the San Antonio Spurs a better test if not for Kobe Bryant's season-ending Achilles injury.
Hate it or not, everyone wants to play in Los Angeles and the Lakers remain the most decorated franchise there.