The talk of last offseason was star center Dwight Howard and his status with the Orlando Magic. He was eventually traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, but now that D12 is set to become a free agent, he could be switching locales again and his hometown of Atlanta is an ideal fit.
Amico's sources are reporting that Howard is Hawks general manager Danny Ferry's main target this offseason. With Josh Smith, Devin Harris, Zaza Pachulia, Kyle Korver, Johan Petro, Dahntay Jones, Anthony Tolliver and Shelvin Mack all coming off the books, the Hawks should have a ton of available cap room.
This means that the Hawks could potentially sign Howard as well as another high-profile player. A five-year, $108 million contract is on the table for Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul, but he has yet to make a decision, according to Arash Markazi of ESPNLA.com.
Should Paul choose to test the market, the Hawks could potentially be the Miami Heat of the 2013 offseason. The Heat cleared a ton of salary out prior to signing LeBron James and Chris Bosh in 2010. Dwyane Wade remained in the place, but there was essentially nobody else on the roster, so it was filled with cheap free agents and through the draft.
All-Star big man Al Horford will remain under contract, so bringing in Howard and potentially Paul would immediately make the Hawks a threat to the Heat and New York Knicks in the Eastern Conference. Howard could obviously opt to remain with the Lakers, but coming off a disappointing season and with Kobe Bryant's health in doubt, it isn't an overly attractive option at this point.
Howard and Paul played together on the 2008 Olympic team, so it's entirely possible that they have discussed playing together in the NBA. According to Brian Windhorst of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, James, Bosh and Wade planted the seeds for their eventual alliance during that time. While it may technically be tampering, there isn't much that can be done about it.
Right now, Howard probably sees the writing on the wall and the pastures look a lot greener in Atlanta provided he can get another star to join him. Even if Howard goes to the Hawks by himself, he and Horford will suddenly form the most dominant interior duo in the NBA.
The Hawks would obviously have to build around them, but the Memphis Grizzlies have proved that winning teams can be built from the inside out. The tandem of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol has been dominant during the playoffs and could ultimately lead the Grizz past the Oklahoma City Thunder.
If there is one thing that the Heat are susceptible to, it is strong interior play. Miami utilizes a smaller lineup and doesn't have a true center, so a Horford and Howard-led Hawks team would be a definite threat to the Heat's dominance. Going back home and playing for a potential contender has to be enticing for Howard at this point.
There are definitely some options on the table for him, but perhaps not as many as he would like due to the amount of cap space needed to sign him. The only advantage that the Lakers have over the Hawks is the ability to sign Howard to a max contract. If Howard cares more about winning than money, though, Atlanta is the place he should call home in 2013-14.
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