Pros and Cons for Every Team in the Dwight Howard Free-Agency Sweepstakes
If you thought Part 1 of the Dwight Howard free-agency sweepstakes was a rough one, get ready for Part 2.
Now that the big man knows you can't just sign with a team and immediately expect to compete, his decision is going to be even tougher. Dwight is an unrestricted free agent once a champion emerges from the postseason field, and he'll have to weigh a number of pros and cons before finding a home for the 2013-14 campaign and beyond.
Going into the offseason, six teams have emerged as contenders for Howard's services. In alphabetical order, they're the Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Dallas Mavericks, Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers.
Each team has a number of positives associated with it. Obviously, or else it would already have been eliminated from contention in these sweepstakes.
However, there are also negatives for each landing spot. The decision can't be too easy, after all.
Get ready, NBA fans, because Part 2 of the Dwightmare is almost upon us.
If Dwight Howard comes to the Atlanta Hawks—which seems like a major long shot at the moment since the big man has expressed no overt interest in returning to his hometown—he won't be doing so alone.
Because general manager Danny Ferry immediately cleared cap space when he arrived in Atlanta, doing so by trading away Joe Johnson, Joe Johnson's albatross of a contract and Marvin Williams for expiring deals, Atlanta has a ton of money to play with. The Hawks aren't just looking for a single star, but rather to land both Howard and Chris Paul in a remarkable coup d'etat of the current power structure in the Association.
With Al Horford already in place, Atlanta would have plenty of star power in its lineup.
Even though there would inevitably be a good deal of roster turmoil, Howard could join forces with a Big Three that would rival the one employed by the defending champions. The Hawks are one of the few teams with the financial means necessary to land both the NBA's premier center and top point guard.
For D12, there are two major downsides to signing with the Atlanta Hawks.
First, the fanbase is lackluster at best. And I say that as a member of the fanbase in question. Atlanta notoriously leaves open seats in Philips Arena and is routinely out-cheered by the opposing teams' fans. It's not at all uncommon to hear MVP chants for a member of the other squad during home games.
Howard, whether he wants to admit it, likes attention, and he likes positive attention significantly more than the negative variety. Playing both in a large market and for a passionate fanbase is part of the equation, and the Hawks can't meet the latter criterion.
There's a chance that Atlanta would pull a Miami and suddenly become a rabid group of supporters if the team gained a true superstar and became a real contender, but it's not a guarantee.
Secondly, chemistry isn't a guarantee either. The Hawks only have five players signed for the 2013-14 season—Horford, Lou Williams, DeShawn Stevenson, John Jenkins and Mike Scott—so next year's on-court product is likely to be a team striving to build chemistry as the season progresses.
After a year with a Los Angeles Lakers squad that might have flunked a high school chemistry course, Howard could view that as a major con.
At this point, who wouldn't want to play alongside Kyrie Irving? The young point guard is quickly blossoming into one of the NBA's biggest superstars, and he's an offensive mastermind who would be complemented quite nicely by a dominant post presence.
As a whole, the Cleveland Cavaliers are young as well. Between Irving, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson and the upcoming No. 1 pick in the 2013 NBA draft—whether that's Nerlens Noel, Ben McLemore, Otto Porter or someone else—there's an abundance of youth on the roster.
Cleveland is an up-and-coming team, and Howard would immediately make the Cavs into a dominant force in the Eastern Conference. Now imagine how terrific they could look if Irving, Waiters and Thompson continue along their developmental curves.
Waiting for players to blossom into stars can be scary, but the Cavs have the potential to employ more than a few of them down the road.
"Down the road" could be a pretty big negative, though. Even if Dwight Howard signed with the team, Cleveland will only have two true stars for the 2013-14 season: D12 and Irving.
There's cap space to potentially bring in a third max player during the 2014 offseason, but that's a year down the road, and a lot can happen in between now and then. Cap space doesn't guarantee a marquee signing either.
Unfortunately, injuries are one of those things that can happen.
It's early in Irving's career, so there's a chance that he's just been the victim of a number of unlucky accidents, but the injury-prone tag might need to be applied to the Duke product's resume. He missed time during his lone collegiate season for the Blue Devils and has yet to play anything even resembling a full season at the professional level.
If Irving can't stay healthy, it's Orlando all over again for Dwight as he attempts to carry a team deep into the postseason.
If the Dallas Mavericks play their hand correctly and work with the player and club options, they could sign both Dwight Howard and another star, preferably a point guard.
Plus, Mark Cuban's squad still has Dirk Nowitzki to build around, and the German big man has gone on the record as saying that he's willing to take a significant pay cut down the road to make everything work out (h/t The Dallas Morning News).
Dirk and Howard would form a terrifying frontcourt tandem. There's plenty of size there, and they complement each other as well as any two big men in the league. Between Dirk's ability to space the floor with his flamingo fadeaway and D12's knack for clearing out the inside of a defense and controlling the game on the blocks, opposing teams wouldn't know what to do.
Plus, while Howard wouldn't earn as much money—on the surface level—with Dallas as he would with the Los Angeles Lakers, he wouldn't have to pay any state income tax.
Money can often be a driving force in players' decisions, much as we hate to admit it, and that could be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel's back.
The only major concern stemming from signing with the Dallas Mavericks deals with age. Dirk Nowitzki's age in particular.
How long will the title window be open for Dwight if he joins forces with Dirk and Co.? The German 7-footer is nearly 35 years old, and he'd turn 36 before getting an opportunity to win a second title. There were signs of a decline during the 2012-13 season, and it's hard to see him remaining at a superstar level for too much longer.
If Dirk devolves into a standout player instead of a true star, Dwight has to take on an inordinate load in this situation.
Unless the Mavericks sign another franchise player, but there's no guarantee of that.
Golden State Warriors
As they proved during the 2013 postseason, the Golden State Warriors are most assuredly a team on the rise. The Splash Brothers—Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson—have the ability to drain threes at ridiculous rates for a long, long time.
Can you imagine how dominant this offense could be with Howard patrolling the inside of the half-court sets?
If defenses keyed in on the big man, he could just kick out the rock to one of the litany of marksmen on the outside. And if defenders stayed home against the shooters, Howard could just go to work on the blocks and make them pay.
It's hard to envision many teams successfully game-planning against the Dubs with Howard on the roster, and there are plenty of years left in the tank for all the significant players on the squad. Harrison Barnes could be a major X-factor here as well.
Dwight would not be a primary offensive option for the Golden State Warriors. For that matter, he might not be a secondary one either.
Curry will be the featured scorer on this team well into the future, and the Dubs should continue to tell him that it's literally impossible for him to take a bad shot. David Lee remains the second option, and the Warriors will continue to run plenty of pick-and-roll sets that feature jump shots over finishes at the rim.
Can Dwight accept being a tertiary offensive option? Could his ego handle filling a role much like the one Tyson Chandler plays on the New York Knicks when he knows that he's talented enough to be a go-to player in the scoring column?
That uncertainty is enough to put a serious damper on all the positives that this fit presents.
Dwight Howard found a lot of success with the Orlando Magic because the team surrounded him with plenty of potent shooters and quality defenders.
That's the same strategy the Houston Rockets would employ, except they'd be even more successful in doing so. Plus, James Harden brings a level of offensive prowess to the table that none of Howard's Magic teammates could ever match.
The playing styles of the big man and the incumbents on the Rockets fit remarkably well, and all of the pieces already in place are young and full of potential. Houston already looked like it was a single piece away from truly competing in the Western Conference, and Howard could be that piece.
Chandler Parsons is clearly on the rise as well, and he could be that third member of the trio that seems necessary to compete in the modern-day NBA.
Just as is the case with the Dallas Mavericks, Dwight wouldn't have to pay any sort of state income tax if he joined the Rockets. That's a huge positive, because the Rockets couldn't offer him as much money as the team that employed him during the 2012-13 season.
Finding a third star is going to be difficult, and the Rockets would have to hope that one develops internally. Parsons is the best bet, but he has a lot of growing left to do.
Houston doesn't have the money to sign a third max player. Not with Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik both on the roster for the foreseeable future.
That's the only negative, though. At the moment, this is the best fit for Howard.
Los Angeles Lakers
The same pros that always seem to go hand in hand with the Los Angeles Lakers apply here.
L.A. offers Dwight Howard the one thing that he seems to covet above all else: attention. Staying in purple and gold allows him to be the constant focus of media outlets, always be given a featured spot in sports discussions and have the potential for plenty of endorsements.
The Lakers have both a passionate and an incredibly large fanbase, and it's tough to find a bigger market than the one offered by the City of Angels.
Additionally, the Lakers are willing to spend money to win championships. The luxury tax might as well not exist for L.A. brass because the team makes so much revenue that it can afford to pay salary-cap penalties without so much as a second thought.
If Dwight remains, he can be absolutely certain that the management will do everything in its power to bring in supporting pieces capable of winning a championship.
How much does this team have left in the tank, and who's even going to be on it?
Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash are all under contract for the 2013-14 season, but there are problems associated with each of them.
Kobe's Achilles isn't exactly in great shape, and it could be quite a while before he regains his All-Star form.
Pau dealt with injuries throughout the 2012-13 campaign, failing to live up to the expectations until the end of the year. Can he still be a dominant player for an extended period?
Nash is just old, and there's no telling how much he has left in the tank.
Beyond that, L.A.'s roster is filled with even more uncertainty. Jodie Meeks has a team option, Metta World Peace has an early termination option and Antawn Jamison and Earl Clark are unrestricted free agents.
There's no guarantee that this version of the Lakers, even with Dwight in place, can make the playoffs, much less win a title. And as the years progress, the aforementioned stars will decline, thus closing the championship window even further.