The Golden State Warriors thought they had their offseason checklist already written.
A 47-win regular season brought them a rare postseason appearance, meaning May 21's draft lottery was finally not their concern. In fact, unless they're enthralled with a player from what's been called a historically weak draft class or they're offered an unlikely chance to unload one of their awful contracts, the Warriors don't need to be concerned with the draft at all.
Their first-round pick, 21st overall, is headed to the Utah Jazz as a late payment for their ill-advised acquisition of Marcus Williams(!) in 2007-08. Their second-round pick, 51st, belongs to the Orlando Magic after several exchanges since they dealt the pick as part of the David Lee sign-and-trade in 2010.
The cash-strapped Warriors, who could have as much as $74 million in salary commitments depending on player options (via HoopsHype.com), didn't figure to be concerned with outside free agents, either. At least, not before deciding on the futures of Jarrett Jack (an unrestricted free agent) and hearing the option decisions of Carl Landry and Brandon Rush.
Then Long Beach Press-Telegram hoops scribe Mark Medina offered the latest update on Dwight Howard's free agency. Essentially Medina said what all other Howard observers have been saying for months: The All-Star big man doesn't know where he wants to play next season.
That's great, but how does this relate to the Warriors? Because Medina offered a one-sentence bombshell, some 16 paragraphs into the piece. "A source familiar with Howard's thinking says he plans to test free agency and has considered the Lakers, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta and Golden State," Medina wrote.
And just like that, Golden State general manager Bob Myers' checklist was a crumbled mess in the bottom of his trash can.
The Warriors found a winning combination this year, one that carried them all the way to a competitive, six-game series with the San Antonio Spurs in the second round.
But folks, this is Dwight Howard we're talking about. Superman. A 6'11", 265-pound sculpture of a man, a player that never lost his standing as the best center in the business despite a nightmarish debut season with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Think Warriors owner Joe Lacob isn't still cleaning the remnants of his beverage off his keyboard? He had tried, unsuccessfully, to pluck the big man away from the Orlando Magic in each of the last two seasons but could never sell his franchise as a viable landing point for the superstar.
Now not only was his team in the running, but it was reportedly just one of five hand-picked by the big man himself.
Sounds a little too good to be true, doesn't it?
I mean, Andrew Bogut proved invaluable in the Warriors' playoff run, but who's to say the big man will ever be fully healthy again? Even if it meant sacrificing Harrison Barnes or Klay Thompson (it would), those players built intrigue on their potential. Howard has suitors and media members hanging on his every word for substance, for tangible results like a trio of Defensive Player of the Year awards and seven All-NBA selections.
Bogut has the defensive ability (when healthy) to watch the backs of the defensively challenged Stephen Curry and David Lee, but never averaged better than 15.9 points per game even in his best years. Howard supposedly just finished one of his worst seasons as a pro and still managed 17.1 points a night on 57.8 percent shooting from the field.
Howard thrives when sharing the floor with proficient perimeter marksmen, which the Warriors have in droves. Golden State's shooters suffered to find space without a post scorer that demands defensive attention. Howard's devoured single coverage throughout his career and found ways to be successful when faced with double- or triple-teams.
A match made in heaven, right? One that Warriors coach, and pastor, Mark Jackson couldn't sign off on quickly enough.
If only it was that easy.
Unless Myers' past life as an NBA agent has made him the greatest salesman the world has ever seen, Medina's article will be as close as this team ever gets to landing Howard.
For starters, any ticket out of L.A. would be incredibly expensive for Howard. The Lakers can offer more money ($118 million as opposed to $88 million) and a longer contract (five years instead of four) than any of his other suitors.
Forget the economics, says blindly optimistic Warriors fan, Howard can recoup that money and then some in his next contract.
It's possible, but even that doesn't necessarily help the Warriors. With so much money already committed to next year's payroll, the Warriors would have to sacrifice valuable assets to land Howard in a sign-and-trade with the Lakers. The Houston Rockets, Atlanta Hawks and Dallas Mavericks can sign the big man outright on the free-agent market, and possibly still have enough financial wiggle room to search for even more talent.
And don't forget Howard reportedly just said he felt under-utilized and over-looked by Mike D'Antoni in Los Angeles (via Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com).
Part of Golden State's long-overdue return to relevance centered around adding high-character players and respectable leaders to the locker room.
Howard's been the center (no pun intended) of three drama-filled locker rooms over the last three seasons. Would his same frustrations return when the Warriors' snipers are firing at will and the big man's not getting any touches? Does the team have a strong enough leadership core to handle a disgruntled star?
The only time Howard's coming to the Bay Area next season is when he's donning a road jersey and searching for laughs inside the visitors' locker room at the Oracle Arena.
But that doesn't mean that this situation is a complete loss for the Warriors.
Rather it means that Lacob's accomplished what he set out to do when he led the group that purchased this franchise in 2010.
And no, I'm not talking about giving this fanbase a reason to watch playoff basketball. I'm talking about completely changing the culture of the organization, transforming one of the league's laughing stocks into a coveted landing spot for superstar free agents.
This isn't the last step that this club needs to take, but you can see the light at the end of the tunnel that Lacob and Co. have been selling to Golden State fans for three years.
Yes, that light is indeed golden. And words can't begin to describe how magnificent of a site it is to see for Warriors fans.
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