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Dwight Howard Free Agency Rumors: Latest Rumors on Lakers, Rockets and More

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 16, 2016

Dwight Howard Free Agency Rumors: Latest Rumors on Lakers, Rockets and More

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    Dwight Howard might not be the most talented player hitting the free-agent market this summer, but he's definitely the most interesting one.

    After a disastrous debut season with the Los Angeles Lakers, Howard's been linked to every team with substantial cap space, and some without. His reputation took a beating in the court of public opinion this past year, but his value in the hoops world appears as healthy as ever.

    So before the red carpets are officially rolled on July 1, we'll be helping you keep track of Superman's flight schedule. We'll tell you why certain teams are interested, how they could make their dream a reality, and whether it'd be in Howard's best interest to consider each situation as a viable landing spot.

    Read on to find out all the latest rumors surrounding Howard's free agency and his prime pursuers.

Houston Rockets Emerge as Frontrunner for Dwight Howard

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    The Buzz

    UPDATE: Saturday, July 6, at 2:40 p.m. ET by Jesse Dorsey

    The deal with Howard is worth $88 million over four seasons, which will include an early termination option following the 2015-16 season, along with a 15 percent trade kicker according to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski.

    That ETO means Howard could become a free agent in three years, rather than four if he would rather sign a full maximum deal with Houston then, or leave for another team.

    --End of update--


    UPDATE: Friday, July 5, at 11:05 p.m. ET by Grant Hughes

    Things got messy there for a few hours. ESPN reported that Howard was back to waffling between the Lakers and Rockets, Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated reported that Howard was heading to L.A. for a meeting and then Mark Medina of the L.A. Daily News dropped the confusing bomb that the Lakers and Mitch Kupchak were somehow unaware of said meeting.

    In the end, all of the confusion turned out to be nothing more than a product of the tireless news cycle and some dubious sources.

    The Lakers acknowledged in an official statement that Howard was leaving. And then Howard finally tweeted his decision to join the Rockets.

    Got all that?

    ---End of update---


    UPDATE: Friday, July 5, at 6:04 p.m. ET by Grant Hughes

    According to Sam Amick of USA Today, Howard has chosen to sign with the Houston Rockets.

    After a flurry of moves by the Golden State Warriors, it appeared as though there was a real question about where D12 would end up, but in the end, Howard opted for Houston.

    Because nothing with Howard is ever simple, reports from Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! and Alex Kennedy of Hoopsworld.com confused matters by indicating that Howard had not made his final decision yet.

    The latest information available from Wojnarowski and ESPN make it seem as though Howard is going to sign with the Rockets. The dust seems to have settled...for now.

    ---End of update---


    Depending on who you listen to, the Houston Rockets are either the Lakers' biggest threat to pry Howard out of L.A. or just one of a number of teams that he'll consider this summer.

    According to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle, a 10-man contingent of Houston Rockets representatives met with Howard shortly after 12:00 a.m. ET on July 1. The group included Daryl Morey, Kevin McHale, Chandler Parsons, James Harden, Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler.

    Per Feigen, the team's main pitch was that the Rockets provided Howard with the best chance to win a ring.

    Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski adds that the Rockets are now the "frontrunner" to sign Howard.

    Feigen notes that Howard asked the Rockets about how he'd fit with the team, but also asked about whether or not the team planned to add another star down the line alongside James Harden and potentially himself.

    The runway is now clear.

     

    What's in it for Howard

    Morey can swap out his youthful talent for veteran players—something he's reportedly going to sell to free-agent targets—or test coach Kevin McHale's player development skills and see how much of that oozing potential will be realized next season.

    Either option should work for Howard. Clearly he's interested in playing with Paul, but Houston's current roster should be very intriguing. The Rockets can surround him with shooters in a similar system to the one that Howard thrived in during his time with the Orlando Magic.

    Only this time, he'll have multiple teammates (Harden, Parsons and Jeremy Lin) capable of creating offense off the dribble. And if Omer Asik isn't lost in the Howard chase, Houston could trot out a post tandem capable of controlling the glass and erasing shots at the rim.

    If Howard leaves L.A., he'll be leaving about $30 million on the table, but that financial loss might not be as dramatic as it sounds. He'd only be 31 after the expiration of a four-year contract, so he could have another max contract in his future.

    And don't forget—Texas doesn't have a state income tax or a millionaires tax, so his annual net pay in Houston might not be much different than what he'd get in L.A.

    On top of all that, Houston, like Los Angeles, is offering Howard a television show if he signs on with the Rockets, according to ESPNLA.com's Dave McMenamin.

     

    How It Would Get Done

    If the Rockets can shed Thomas Robinson's salary through a trade, they'd have enough money to sign Howard outright. But Houston would like to bring in Howard through a sign-and-trade, and ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne report that the Rockets will offer Lin and Asik to L.A.

     

    Projected Starting Five

    PG: Jeremy Lin

    SG: James Harden

    SF: Chandler Parsons

    PF: Greg Smith

    C: Dwight Howard

     

    Stay or Go?

    The Houston Chronicle's Jerome Solomon argues a Harden- and Howard-led Houston team could be an NBA Finals contender, and it's hard to disagree.

    Whether the talented twosome would be part of the league's next Big Three with Paul would signifcantly bolster the strength of that statement, but the sentiment doesn't change even if the roster upgrades aren't quite that dramatic. Houston's not that far away from competing for a crown as it is, and an All-NBA performer like Howard may well be enough to push it over the top.

    So why wouldn't Howard jump at this chance?

    Because as talented as Harden is, he's not Kobe Bryant. And the Rockets' current frontcourt can't collectively match the individual post talents of Pau Gasol. And even the limitations of an aging Steve Nash are still a better prospect than having Lin orchestrate the offense.

    The Rockets might be a great team in the not-so-distant future, but the Lakers could be a great team next season.

Golden State Warriors

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    UPDATE: Friday, July 5, at 4:20 p.m. ET by Adam Fromal

    The Golden State Warriors have officially made some massive moves (well, they'll become official once the moratorium lifts on July 10).

    First, the Dubs decided to clear up some cap space by trading away expiring contracts to the Utah Jazz. Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Warriors were shipping out Richard Jefferson and his albatross of a contract, and TNT's David Aldridge revealed that the same was happening with Andris Biedrins. 

    Per Marcus Thompson of the Contra Costa Times, the Warriors are also sending Brandon Rush to the Jazz. 

    It's unclear what Golden State is receiving in return, but it's likely as close to nothing as possible. 

    Immediately following the first set of trades, Wojnarowski dropped an even bigger #WojBomb: "Andre Igoudala has reached agreement with Golden State on a four year, $48 million deal with the Warriors, league source tells Y! Sports."

    This deal immediately strengthens the team, and it doesn't prevent them from signing Dwight Howard. In fact, quite the opposite. 

    As HOOPSWORLD's Alex Kennedy reports, signing Iguodala makes the Dubs a more attractive destination for the ultimate target and makes Harrison Barnes much more expendable in a sign-and-trade deal. 

    Despite adding another massive contract, Golden State just became even more serious contenders for Howard's services. 

    --End of update--

     

    UPDATE: Friday, July 5, at 10:50 a.m. ET by Adam Fromal

    The Golden State Warriors are getting closer to trading Andrew Bogut and opening up some cap space to sign Dwight Howard. 

    As reported by ESPN's Marc Stein, the Utah Jazz and the Dubs have begun trade talks for the center who played college basketball at Utah. Stein also tweeted that we shouldn't be surprised by this news: "Jazz have expressed strongest interest to date in Bogut, sources say. No surprise after Al Jefferson's departure and Bogut's college ties."

    Even if this is the first piece to fall for Golden State, it can't be the last. 

    --End of update--

     

    UPDATE: Friday, July 5, at 10:00 a.m. ET by Adam Fromal

    According to HOOPSWORLD's Steve Kyler, the Golden State Warriors are actively shopping Andrew Bogut, Andris Biedrins and Richard Jefferson, and they've offered the trio of players to the Utah Jazz, Cleveland Cavaliers and Atlanta Hawks. 

    The Dubs should be looking to do this regardless of whether or not they can land Dwight Howard, but it makes even more sense if D12 declares his interest in the organization. Should he decide that he wants to come to Golden State, it would be in the Warriors' best interest to clear up cap space and avoid the hassle of a sign-and-trade with the Los Angeles Lakers. 

    Of course, unloading even one of those hefty contracts without receiving salary in return will be difficult, much less all three. 

    --End of update--

     

    UPDATE: Friday, July 5, at 12:01 a.m. ET by Grant Hughes

    According to Peter Vecsey of the New York Post, the Golden State Warriors are prepared to either complete a sign-and-trade with the Lakers for Howard, or offload the contracts of Andrew Bogut, Richard Jefferson and Andris Biedrins so they'll have enough money to sign him outright.

    Vecsey reports that the Warriors already have takers lined up for those contracts if the Lakers don't cooperate in a sign-and-trade.

    Everything still depends on whether or not Howard wants to play in Golden State, but the Warriors have certainly dominated the July 4 news cycle. That could be an indicator that they're close to pulling something off.

    ---End of update---


    UPDATE: Thursday, July 4, at 7:11 p.m. ET by Grant Hughes

    According to Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst of ESPN, the Warriors are aggressively trying to unload expiring contracts in an effort to clear enough cap space to sign Howard outright.

    Golden State has three massive deals that come off the books after the 2013-14 season in Bogut ($14 million), Jefferson ($11 million) and Biedrins ($10 million). Per Stein and Windhorst, the Warriors have been shopping all three of those players, but most teams have asked for either Klay Thompson or Harrison Barnes as sweeteners.

    ---End of update---


    UPDATE: Thursday, July 4, at 12:51 a.m. ET by Grant Hughes 

    Marcus Thompson of the Contra Costa Times reports that in the Warriors' meeting with Howard, Mark Jackson was particularly impressive. More importantly, Thompson says that part of the pitch to Howard was that he'd get to play with Barnes, Thompson and Stephen Curry.

    Until now, just about everyone assumed that either Barnes or Thompson would have to be part of any sign-and-trade deal with the Lakers. But Thompson suspects that because the Lakers have no leverage, Howard could simply threaten to sign with another team if the Lakers don't orchestrate a sign-and-trade agreement that the Warriors (and he) approve of.

    ---End of update---


    Golden State has more than $70 million on the books, so any Howard acquisition would have to be done via a sign-and-trade. It remains unclear whether the Lakers would be willing to facilitate Howard's move elsewhere, especially if it's to a division rival like the Warriors.

    One has to wonder what players exactly the Warriors would be prepared to give up, though. The Lakers wouldn't be doing their due diligence if they didn't inquire about the availability of budding young stars like Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes.

     

    What's in it for Howard

    With Golden State, Howard would have the opportunity to play alongside one of the best point guards in the league in Stephen Curry and for a team with a blindingly bright future.

    Golden State rocked the NBA sphere when it upset the Denver Nuggets and gave the San Antonio Spurs all they could handle in the second round of the playoffs, and its progression doesn't appear to be slowing any time soon.

    The Warriors also have plenty of shooters to surround Howard with. Next to three-point assasins like Thompson, Curry, perhaps Jarrett Jack and, to a certain extent, Barnes, Superman wouldn't see as many double teams.

    Provided his back doesn't hinder his explosion any further, he would be a great fit inside of Mark Jackson's offense. That is, if he could handle knowing it doesn't run through him.

     

    How It Would Get Done

    Sign-and-trade. That's it.

    To accomodate Howard's salary and satisfy whatever needs the Lakers look to fill, the Warriors may even have to find a third or fourth team.

    Los Angeles might be intrigued by a David Lee-Pau Gasol pairing, but Lee's contract is burdensome. Andrew Bogut could be a nice fit, since his contract is expiring, but that alone won't get the deal done.

    Ideally, the Warriors would be able to move Lee to a third team that would send first-round picks and/or expiring contracts Los Angeles' way, while sending the Lakers Bogut. This way, the Warriors wouldn't be forced to mortgage the farm by giving away either Barnes or Thompson. Fellow youngsters like Draymond Green and Festus Ezeli don't need to be untouchable, but the former two should.

     

    Projected Starting Five

    Really, we have no idea what this would look like. We need, at the very least, the framework of a potential deal to get any sense of what it would possibly look like.

    Still, we can make an educated guess. I envision the Warriors moving Bogut and Lee in any deal (likely involving a third team), and deciding to run with a smaller lineup.

    PG: Stephen Curry

    SG: Jarrett Jack

    SF: Klay Thompson

    PF: Harrison Barnes

    C: Dwight Howard

     

    Stay or Go?

    If Howard decides to leave the Lakers, the Warriors are his best fit, even above Houston.

    That said, it's not really his decision. He'll need to help force his way to Oakland via a sign-and-trade, and no one knows how amenable the Lakers would be. Again, there will be many teams competing for Howard's affections, many of which can just sign him outright and thereby diminishing the complexities behind his departure.

    Save for perhaps the Rockets, however, none of them will be able to promise him as bright a future.

No Decision Coming on July 5?

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    UPDATE: Friday, July 5, at 2:35 p.m. ET by Adam Fromal. 

    Well, so much for that. 

    Janis Carr of the O.C. Register is doing some quick backtracking: "Hold on....my tweet about Dwight's announcement was premature. No need to sit on Twitter this weekend."

    This would be the time for that three-letter acronym the internet loves so much: SMH. 

    --End of update--

     

    UPDATE: Friday, July 5, at 2:05 p.m. ET by Adam Fromal

    Dwight Howard has made his decision! 

    We just won't know about it for a little while. According to the O.C. Register's Janis Carr, Howard knows where he'll go and will announce his decision on Twitter over the weekend. Possibly. 

    There's a lot to scratch your head at here: 

    1. Why is Carr the one reporting this news? She isn't typically someone who gets the scoop before Adrian Wojnarowski, Marc Stein and the other more prominent Lakers writers. 
    2. Why isn't Dwight just telling us? Is he giving the team of his choosing time to clear up some cap space (hint, hint: Houston Rockets or Golden State Warriors)? 
    3. Is he just looking for more Twitter followers? 

    Regardless, it looks like we have yet another date as to when Dwight will make up his mind. 

    Possibly. 

    --End of update--

     

    The Buzz

    We'd been assuming that Dwight Howard would make his free-agency decision on Friday, July 5, but that's not exactly a guarantee. It never was, in fact. 

    He could make his decision by July 5, but no one in Howard's camp every claimed that he would

    HOOPSWORLD's Alex Kennedy reminds us of this: "I know a lot of you expect a decision from Dwight Howard today, but his camp never set a Friday deadline. It could be a few more days."

    It's unfortunate, but is anyone actually surprised? 

     

    Buying or Selling?

    It's Dwight Howard. 

    Since when has he been able to make decisions quickly? 

    July 5 would have been a nice time for him to make the decision we've all been waiting for, but again, there was never any definitive word from his camp. Kennedy is right, simply because we still have no idea when Howard will ease our minds. 

    Verdict: Buy

Dwight Howard Meets with Lakers and Mavericks

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    The Buzz

    UPDATE: Thursday, July 4, at 1:02 p.m. ET by Dan Favale

    A source told ESPN's Chris Broussard that Kobe Bryant's "I can teach you how to win" pitch likely turned Dwight Howard off.

    Somehow, it seems a bit difficult to conceive Dwight would spurn the Lakers because Kobe is so enthuse about winning, but we'll see.

    ---End of update---


    Before Dwight Howard met with the Lakers, he sat down with the Mavericks.

    Dwain Price of The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported afterward that the meeting went "well" for Dallas. The two sides talked for roughly two and a half hours, and owner Mark Cuban emerged from the pitch saying "it was fun."

    Aside from Dirk Nowitzki and Cuban, Dallas' welcoming committee also contained trainer Casey Smith, who's revitalization of Tyson Chandler's career was used as a selling point, according Tim MacMahon of ESPN Dallas.

    Following the Mavs, Howard met with a Lakers contingent that included Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Mike D'Antoni and Mitch Kupchak. Per Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times and Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register, the group also included an AEG executive and TWC SportsNet rep, presumably to sell Dwight on the opportunities that awaited him outside of basketball if he re-signed in Hollywood.

    Once the meeting adjourned, Nash told Ramona Shelburne of ESPN Los Angeles that it was a productive sit down. He said they talked about last season and how it can be built on. According to Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News, Nash also admitted Howard gave no indication as to when he'd make his decision.

    When he himself left, Howard didn't speak extensively with reporters. As Jonathan Feigan of Ultimate Rockets writes, he said he couldn't talk, but noted he had "a lot" of great meetings. 

    While Howard wasn't divulging any information, a source close to him told Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles that the Lakers' meeting went well.

    The messages the Lakers delivered to him appeared to be pretty straight forward. Per Bresnahan, Kupchak said they just reiterated to Howard that they felt Los Angeles was the best place for him.

    Meanwhile, Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reports that Kobe talked to Howard about winning. Feigan also says that the Lakers talked about making Howard a part of the franchise's decision-making process.

    More was apparently said in a private setting between D'Antoni, Nash, Kobe and Howard. Shelburne reports that they met separately to have an "honest" conversation about many of the issues they dealt with this past season.

    Though Howard gave no indication as to when he would make his decision, Woj says that he's leaving Tinseltown for a few days to mull things over. CBS Sports' Ken Berger says that Dwight plans to retreat to Montana or Colorado to weigh his options.

     

    Buying or Selling?

    All we can really buy into is that Howard had a handful of really good meetings and he hasn't made his decision yet, because that's where we're at.

    Rarely do players emerge from these proceedings claiming to have reached a decision. Even if they did, they never cop to their choice right then and there.

    In Howard's case, he had nothing to concede. There's no way he has his mind made up already. Not when so many possibilities, most notably those that await him in Los Angeles and Houston, are still being tossed around.

    A number of things could still sway him in one direction as well, like if Sam Amick's report that the Rockets are trying to set themselves up to land Josh Smith in addition to Howard comes to fruition.

    So much can happen between now and July 10, when Howard can officially sign with the team of his choice. Alex Kennedy of Hoopsworld notes that he intends to render a swift verdict, but that doesn't mean one is imminent in every sense of the word.

    Howard is facing a big decision, and he continues to play this one close to the chest. When he knows where he'll play next season, so will we.

Dwight Howard Might Make His Decision on Friday

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    The Buzz

    UPDATE: Thursday, July 4, at 9:55 a.m. ET by Dan Favale

    Per Alex Kennedy of Hoopsworld, Howard won't hold himself to a deadline of Friday, July 5. A source close to Howard tells Kennedy that it might be a "few days" before the big man makes his decision.

    ---End of update---


    Go ahead and cross your fingers. Now keep them that way for a little while. 

    According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, normally known as an NFL reporter, Dwight Howard might be making his decision by Friday, July 5. Given Dwight's proclivity for drama, that probably means that he'll actually be making the choice as late as possible Friday night, but at least we have a date in mind now. 

    Mark Medina of the L.A. Daily News essentially confirmed this news when he tweeted that the Lakers are anticipating a decision in "several days." 

    Schefter also reports that the decision is "totally up in air," providing little clarity on where the league's premier big man will actually go. The Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Mavericks, Atlanta Hawks and Golden State Warriors are all still in play. 

     

    Buying or Selling? 

    There's not much of a reason to doubt this, especially because the ESPN report provides a bit of an out. 

    He never said that Dwight will be making a decision by Friday, only that he "hopes" to do so. For all we know, the actual decision could be months away, and that doesn't necessarily mean that Schefter is wrong. 

    We can absolutely buy this timeframe, especially given the news that Howard has withdrawn into the mountains to give his mind a bit more clarity. 

    As for the location of choice, that's feasible as well. Dwight has given no indication that any location is a favorite, so of course everything is still up in the air. 

    Nothing to doubt here. 

Lakers Now the Favorites to Re-Sign Dwight Howard

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    The Buzz

    Per ESPN's Chris Palmer, the Lakers are now the favorites to land Dwight Howard.

    Palmer writes he's hearing "strongly" that Superman is inclined to re-sign with Los Angeles.

     

    Buying or Selling

    Nothing can be made official until July 10, but this is something to buy.

    The Lakers have been pulling out all the stops to sign Howard, a seeming admittance that the franchise is his for the taking.

    Factor in their financial flexibility come next summer and the fact that they can offer him one year and $30 million more than any other team, and it makes sense that he would lean toward extending his stay in Tinseltown.

    Howard was riddled by injuries last season, so that fifth year and tens of millions of dollars more that comes with it is especially important. God forbid he can't perform at a high level anymore, he'll have netted himself a boatload of financial security.

    Free agency has only just begun, so this is something to monitor and reports could change. But don't be surprised if Howard remains right where he is.

     


Dwight Howard Receives Call from Boston Celtics

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    The Buzz

    Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe reports that Danny Ainge made a "courtesy call" to Dwight Howard's representatives to gauge his interest in joining the Celtics via a sign-and-trade. 

    Ainge was told Howard wasn't interested.

     

    Buying or Selling?

    Have to buy.

    Howard isn't going to be interested in playing for a team in transition like the Celtics, even if they somehow managed to retain Rajon Rondo in any sign-and-trade.

    Boston was making an obligatory call. The free agent in question is Howard, after all. It's difficult not to inquire about his interest in joining your team.

    As one would expect, Howard declined. Ainge and the Celtics aren't broken up about it either. 

    No harm in simply placing a call, in this case.

L.A. Lakers Putting Full Court Press on Dwight Howard

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    The Buzz

    According to Sam Amick of USA Todaythe Los Angeles Lakers met with Dwight Howard twice as soon as free agency opened on July 1.

    Per Amick, Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak wanted to remind Howard why he belonged in the Lakers purple and gold for the rest of his career.

    Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash will be in on Howard's "official" pow-wow with the Lakers, but they won't be the only ones. According to Ramona Shelburne of ESPN Los Angeles, representatives from Time Warner will also be in on the meeting. Considering Howard's off-court interests, it's a very interesting move.

    Additionally, Howard has already spoken to Lakers super-fan Jack Nicholson, according to J.A. Adande of ESPN (via ESPN's Dave McMenamin).

    Yannis Koutroupis of Hoopsworld reports that the Lakers will offer Howard his own television show.

    Howard will be the final team to meet with Howard on Tuesday, following his meeting with the Mavericks, according to ESPN's Marc Stein.

     

    Buying or Selling?

    Emphatic buy.

    Kupchak understands how important it is to constantly let Howard know how he's wanted, and it's of paramount importance to get that message across with multiple teams vying for the services of the big man.

    It's hard to imagine the Lakers doing this for any other free agent, but L.A. wants Howard to be the franchise face after Kobe Bryant's playing days are over.

     


Dwight Howard to Make His Decision by July 10

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    The Buzz

    Dwight Howard intends to make his free agency decision by July 10, when the NBA's moratorium period on new transactions is lifted, sources told Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles.

    Ramona Shelburne, also of ESPN Los Angeles, and McMenamin write that Howard's ultimate decision will come down to a team's championship potential and nothing else.

    Contrary to previous reports, Jeff Goodman of ESPN.com writes that there is currently no frontrunner in Howard's free-agency sweepstakes.

     

    Buying or Selling?

    We need to buy this.

    Lengthening what has already become a taxing process for all involved doesn't make much sense. Howard needs to make a decision quickly, so that he and any of the interested teams that come up empty can move on.

    Spurning the Lakers will result in even more ensuing coverage, but that's going to happen no matter how long he waits.

    He should enjoy the courting he will be treated to. It's not every summer he can experience this kind of sovereignty. Putting free agency in the rear-view mirror as soon as possible, however, also needs to be a top priority.

Los Angeles Lakers

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    The Lakers know Howard's free agency will be a marathon, not a sprint. So L.A. will be patiently waiting for his decision, if for no other reason than because it has no other choice.

    Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak already knows that. Serena Winters of LakersNation.com reports that Kupchak remains optimistic that Howard will ultimately re-sign with his team, but expects the big man to entertain other offers.

    As long as Howard's only listening, the Lakers won't have a problem with that. Kupchak reiterated to Mike Trudell of Lakers.com that Howard is the "future" of the Lakers in an interview on June 25.

    On June 27, however, sources told ESPN.com's Chris Broussard that Howard is unlikely to re-sign in Los Angeles. Broussard cites Mike D'Antoni's offense and a distaste for playing alongside Kobe Bryant as the main reasons why.

    Broussard also stated the Rockets and Mavericks are now the favorites to sign the big man.

    On June 29, Goodman reported that Howard would meet with the Lakers after having sit-down conversations with the Rockets, Mavericks and Hawks when the July 1 free-agency period begins. L.A. had been enjoying exclusive rights to speak with Howard's representatives, but once July rolls around, the playing field will level off.

    Per Shelburne and McMenamin, Los Angeles' chance to re-sign Howard isn't adversely effected by Mike D'Antoni's presence. Superman reportedly won't ask the Lakers to fire him.

    And according to Alex Kennedy of Hoopsworld, Howard might be swayed by Phil Jackson's presence with the team if the Zen Master's role were a little more defined.

    When L.A. meets with D12, both Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash will be present, according to Shelburne. Let's hope Bryant and Howard don't try to strangle each other halfway through the conversation.

     

    What's in It for Howard

    It's still hard to determine exactly what will be driving Howard's decision—whether he's more worried about on- or off-court factors. But there are both business and basketball reasons for him to stay with the Purple and Gold.

    For starters, his current club can offer a longer (five years), more lucrative ($118 million) contract than any other team. No matter which tax bracket you're in, it's never easy leaving free money on the table.

    If Kevin Durant joining Jay-Z's Roc Nation Sports taught the hoops world anything, it's that basketball stars understand the importance of branding. There is no bigger basketball brand than the Lakers; they're front-page material in good times and bad.

    And forget about the "nightmare" season Howard just endured, Mike D'Antoni now has a full offseason and training camp to fully integrate his system. And if that doesn't work, Phil Jackson's just "a phone call away," as Jeanie Buss told Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News.

     

    How It Would Get Done

    Since the Lakers have Howard's Bird Rights, they can offer him the full five-year maximum contract.

     

    Projected Starting Five

    PG: Steve Nash

    SG: Kobe Bryant

    SF: Metta World Peace

    PF: Pau Gasol

    C: Dwight Howard

     

    Stay or Go?

    Howard's not going to be short on suitors, and all of them have compelling arguments to make. But after joining a team with two Hall of Famers and another perennial All-Star, Howard knows better than anyone that the grass isn't always greener. And he hasn't forgotten about the coaching changes or the injuries that kept the Lakers from ever getting off the ground the past season.

    Kobe Bryant stated he hopes to return from his torn Achilles by December. And he isn't hiding his desire to keep Howard around Nash and Gasol will have a full summer to recover from their various ailments.

    Howard still doesn't know how good this Lakers team can be. No one does. Of course, Kobe did have a few thoughts about what they need beyond Howard.

    "We need a couple of younger legs, long guys that can defend and can cover the floor on the perimeter. If we do that, I think we'll be all right," Bryant said, per Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times.

    The business opportunities, the Hollywood backdrop and the star-studded fanbase are all just added bonuses—all of which still hold strong appeal for Howard. So while he'll hear all of the reasons that he should go, at some point, he'll realize his best decision is just to stay put.

Dallas Mavericks

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    Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban isn't the only one aiming for the stars this summer. His former MVP, Dirk Nowitzki, is targeting the "two monsters" on the free-agent market, according to an interview on the "Fitzsimmons and Durett Show" on 103.3 KESM (via Jon Machota of The Dallas Morning News).

    And Cuban has more than just the presence of his aging star to attract Howard—he's offering his next star the chance to hand-pick his supporting cast. 

    "We're not going to try to fool you and say that you and Dirk (Nowitzki) and Shawn Marion and Vince (carter) and fill are basically a championship team," Cuban told ESPN Dallas' Tim MacMahon. "The reality is you're going to work with us and Dirk to get out there and pick your team."

    That should appeal to Howard, and per Broussard, it does. Nowitzki has also reportedly started to recruit Howard on his own, according to Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News

    “I reached out to him, but that’s probably as far as I would go,” Nowitzki said. “I told him we’d love to have him and that’s really about it. It’s not like we call each other every day. I didn’t write him a letter. I just had a little phone contact and that was about it.”

    We'll undoubtedly see Cuban, Nowitzki and the Mavs ramp up their pursuit of Howard in the days to come. 

    John Machota from The Dallas Morning News states that Cuban will be visiting Los Angeles once free agency opens on July 1. While he didn't explicitly state that Cuban would hold a meeting with Howard, it seems that would be the main reason for going.

    This is a different approach than what Cuban took a year ago, as he declined to meet with Deron Williams in the team's pitch to the point guard, opting instead to film an episode of Shark Tank.

    As ESPN's Marc Stein has stated, the Mavericks will have a face-to-face interview with Howard before he makes his decision.

    And according to Goodman, that meeting—which will take place on July 2—will include Cuban and Nowitzki.

     

    What's in It for Howard

    Nowitzki is exactly the kind of stretch forward whom D'Antoni wishes he had in L.A. and Howard thrived with in Orlando. He is 35 years old and coming off an injury-plagued season, but he still managed 19 20-point games this past year.

    Cuban has denied having any trade talks regarding Marion, meaning the key remnants from the 2011 championship team (Nowitzki, Marion, Rick Carlisle) will still be around if Howard comes to town. Playing with former champions in L.A. didn't work out so well, but Howard wouldn't have to worry about stepping on anyone's toes in Dallas.

    The Mavericks only have five players on next season's payroll, so Howard has plenty of openings to fill. And, according to Chris Broussard, the Mavs have reportedly already expressed interest in free agent Monta Ellis , a player who has held Howard's interest for some time.

    And Dallas offers the same tax breaks as Houston, something Howard's wallet should be happy to hear.

     

    How It Would Get Done

    The Mavericks would prefer to bring in Howard through a sign-and-trade deal, but could free up enough cap space to sign him outright by moving a player (like Carter) for a future draft pick.

     

    Projected Starting Five

    PG: Darren Collison

    SG: Vince Carter

    SF: Shawn Marion

    PF: Dirk Nowitzki

    C: Dwight Howard

     

    Stay or Go?

    Cuban's a savvy businessman, and he will spare no expense during his sales presentation. And the championship pedigree and complementary talents on the roster are something Howard will have to consider.

    But Howard alone can't transform a .500 team into a championship contender, and a ball-dominant scorer like Ellis won't do it either.

    Unless Howard's interested in waiting around for Nowitzki's "significant pay cut" next summer, there's no reason for him to go.

Los Angeles Clippers

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    Howard wouldn't have to change home arenas next season to have a change of scenery. Howard and Paul would reportedly like to team up next year, and their preference would be to both suit up for Paul's Los Angeles Clippers, according to Chris Broussard.

    Sources differ wildly on the legitimacy of the cash-strapped Clippers' chances at landing Howard, however.

    ESPN Los Angeles' Shelburne and Marc Stein report that the Lakers haven't "completely ruled out" the thought of recouping some talent via a sign-and-trade if they become convinced Howard's not going to re-sign. But Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News says unequivocally the Lakers "won't deal Howard in a sign-and-trade."

    The history books suggest that wherever there's smoke, there's usually some form of fire. So even if a deal is unlikely, it's not something that can be entirely dismissed yet.

     

    What's in It for Howard

    If the Clippers had the cap space to sign Howard, this deal would already be done. That's how good of a fit this would be. This would check off every line item on Superman's wish list.

    He joins a championship contender and gets the chance to play with Paul at the same time. The pair could have complete control of the Clippers' coaching search and fill up the number of roster vacancies however they see fit.

    All of this and Howard wouldn't even need to leave the bright lights of L.A. He and Paul wouldn't be another pair of prime performers following in the footsteps of past legends; they'd be pioneers carving out a championship path for a previously beleaguered franchise.

    The Clippers are clearly reaching for alpha dog status in the city, and it's hard to say that Howard and Paul wouldn't give them top billing.

     

    How It Would Get Done

    Here's where this whole thing gets tricky. According to HoopHype, the Clippers already have more than $45 million  on next season's payroll, and that's before factoring in Paul or any other signings. That leaves a sign-and-trade as the only way Howard could switch Staples Center locker rooms.

     

    Projected Starting Five

    PG: Chris Paul

    SG: Jamal Crawford

    SF: Caron Butler

    PF: Lamar Odom

    C: Dwight Howard

     

    Stay or Go?

    This won't be a hard decision for Howard, because it won't be his call to make.

    The Clippers first have to decide that Blake Griffin's no longer untouchable. Mark Heisler of LakersNation.com reports that not only has a Griffin-Bledsoe package never been offered for Howard, but it won't ever float across the Staples Center halls.

    Even if the Clippers eventually did what Heisler says they won't, they'd need the Lakers to view a Griffin-Bledsoe package as being more valuable than the potential to land two max-contract players in the 2014 summer.

    In case you haven't been looking that far ahead, that's the free-agent class that could feature Carmelo Anthony and the Miami Heat's entire Big Three, among other notable names. And let's just say it's not a fortunate coincidence that the Lakers have only one contract (Steve Nash, $9.7 million) on the books for 2014-15.

Atlanta Hawks

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    Howard's hometown Atlanta Hawks have had July 1, 2013, circled on their calendar ever since general manager Danny Ferry rescued them from financial disaster—better known as Joe Johnson's cap-killing contract.

    With just three players on next season's roster and less than $19 million on the books, Atlanta is in prime position to continue Ferry's overhaul that has already included luring longtime San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Mike Budenholzer away from Gregg Popovich's side.

    While Howard's been lukewarm at best at the idea of returning to Atlanta, Chris Broussard reports he'd be willing to do it if it meant playing alongside Chris Paul. And HawksHoop.com's Raj Prashad added that while being a remote possibility, a Paul-Howard tandem in Atlanta is still a possibility nonetheless.

    Atlanta's face-to-face meeting with Howard wrapped up on Monday afternoon, Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLA.com reporting that the Hawks say the meeting went well.

    Despite the Hawks' long-shot status to nab Howard, Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski was told that Howard's camp was impressed with new head coach Mike Budenholzer.

     

    What's in It for Howard

    The option to team up with Paul—by all accounts, the only way Howard would consider a move to the Hawks.

    For one reason or another, he's just not big on the idea of continuing his basketball career so close to home. Atlanta has three intriguing pieces in place (Al Horford, Louis Williams and John Jenkins), and an even more intriguing clean slate beyond them, but Howard's made it known that he won't be joining the team unless Paul does, too.

     

    How It Would Get Done

    Thanks to Ferry, the Hawks have enough cap space to sign both Howard and Paul outright to max contracts.

     

    Projected Starting Five

    PG: Chris Paul

    SG: John Jenkins

    SF: Kyle Korver*

    PF: Al Horford

    C: Dwight Howard

    *Korver's among the many Atlanta free agents, but since he held the starting small forward position for most of this season, he's still the placeholder for now.

     

    Stay or Go?

    There are no necessary hoops for the Hawks to jump through to make a Howard-Paul pairing happen. So the fact that Atlanta's not considered the front-runner for both players is telling enough. 

    Either one (or both) has reservations over whether the reality of joining forces will be as entertaining as the idea is, or both players think very lowly of the franchise.

    I'm not the first to say that a Howard-Paul-Horford combo sounds like a legitimate contender. But I'm also not the first to say that this trio seems highly unlikely to ever come together.

Golden State Warriors Are Back in the Running for Dwight Howard

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    The Buzz

    According to ESPN's Marc Stein, the Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks are the favorites to steal Dwight Howard away from the Los Angeles Lakers. No surprises there. 

    What's more interesting about his tweet is that he claims the Golden State Warriors have "forced" their way back into the picture, meaning that they can't be discounted in the high-intensity D12 sweepstakes.

    The Dubs seemed to have fallen out of the race, mostly because they don't have the financial means necessary to immediately sign Howard if he reveals that he'd like to play in Golden State. They hadn't been discussed much leading up to Stein's tweet, but that suddenly seems as though it's going to change.  

     

    Buying or Selling?

    Maybe the Warriors are still in the race, but they're still well behind the other teams. 

    Los Angeles is not going to complete a sign-and-trade deal, and that would be necessary if the Dubs were to grab D12. Andrew Bogut and either Harrison Barnes or Klay Thompson would be coming back to the Staples Center in return, and the Lakers would be extremely hesitant to make this kind of move. 

    Mark Heisler, a contributor to SheridanHoops.com, confirms this with a statement from the Lakers: "We won't do S&T for #D12 unless we get someone as special as he is, and how many are there?" As Heisler says, that means that only about four players in the NBA are eligible, and I can tell you right now that the Dubs don't have one of them. 

    Heisler also tweets that the Lakers might swap Dwight for a combination of expiring deals, No. 1 picks in 2014 and guys like Klay Thompson with three years left on a rookie-scale deal. That said, he also informs us that that potential hodgepodge of assets won't be coming from Golden State. 

    Dwight to the Dubs remains a strong sell, despite this most recent breaking news from Stein. 

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