At its most fundamental level, NBA free agency is a game of recruitment. Dwight Howard has already learned that from the Los Angeles Lakers, but if James Harden and the Houston Rockets are smart, they’ll make a push to convince the big man that The Bayou City is the place to be.
Without a doubt, Howard is in the driver’s seat. He’s going to make his own decision, and he’s going to make it at his own pace.
But while Howard is the one in control, the Rockets have a few selling points that could sway the center their way when it’s all said and done.
First and foremost, you have to look at the roster of any team that is going to covet Howard. If Houston is going to put any idea into Howard’s head, it has to be the notion that the Rockets are up-and-coming, while the Lakers are aging every day.
Aside from Kobe Bryant, Howard is the only star on the Lakers’ roster. Bryant’s health makes his production a wild card moving forward, while the Rockets have arguably the next-best 2-guard already on board.
With Bryant likely to miss time, Harden could legitimately be the best shooting guard in the NBA. He’s a knock-down shooter, he can create for his teammates and he even has the clutch factor going for him—he was fifth in 2012-13 in crunch time production, per 82games.com.
But while Harden is the No. 1 option on his team, he doesn’t appear to have the say on the sidelines that Bryant has in L.A. It’s no secret that the 34-year-old can be difficult to get along with, and if the future Hall of Famer opts to stick around a few more years, that will cast a huge shadow over Howard in his attempt to take over the franchise.
Aside from Harden, you can’t ignore the fact that Houston’s rotation has contributors all over the floor. Chandler Parsons is blossoming into a star, Omer Asik would help Howard around the rim and both Jeremy Lin and Harden would be excellent pick-and-roll partners.
There’s certainly the possibility that Asik and Lin become expendable with the addition of Howard, but there’s little denying that this team is headed in the right direction.
As important as the roster is, you can’t ignore coaching. Howard was put into a situation in L.A. where he never flourished, and while health was a reason for a lull in production, Mike D’Antoni’s system didn’t seem to help.
In Houston, Howard would have a coach on his side who understands the demands of a big man. Kevin McHale is often forgotten by today’s younger audiences, but he was a dominant presence down low whose array of moves would benefit Howard.
It’s no secret that the Rockets like to get up and down the floor, but unlike the Lakers, Houston has the roster to do it. With L.A., that style didn’t translate to the older roster. In H-Town, Howard would be with a core much closer to his age, and the group wouldn’t be limited to what Bryant is or is not willing to do on any given night.
Establishing a New Legacy
As a member of the Lakers, Howard has a chance to cement himself as one of the great big men in franchise history. Then again, he’s also opened himself up to criticism from one of the most spotlight-driven markets in the country.
All great players want to be recognized for their accomplishments, and Howard is no exception. The problem is that scrutiny isn’t fun for anyone—as Howard has learned of late—and making the move to Houston would alleviate the pressures of performing in L.A.
If the Rockets are smart, they won’t present this argument as running away from Los Angeles. Nobody wants to look like a coward, and again, Howard is becoming more and more accustomed to what real disparagement feels like.
What Houston needs to do is give Howard the opportunity to start fresh. The easy choice is to stay in L.A. and play behind Bryant until the guard calls it quits. The real challenge is making the decision to move on, and that’s an opening where the 27-year-old can flourish and build his new reputation.
Money, Money, Money
The Los Angeles Lakers have one big selling point that nobody can take away: more money. The team can offer him a five-year, $118 million deal, which is vastly more than the four-year, $88 million deal anybody else can offer.
Los Angeles is going to push this deal as hard as it can, but if Houston is smart, it will expose the fact that it can offer a better arrangement when it’s all said and done.
By living in Houston, Howard would have two big things going for him: No state tax and a cheaper cost of living. The overpriced lifestyle of residing in L.A. can’t be ignored, but the millionaire tax is the kicker.
According to Bill Ingram of Hoops World, Howard would actually make $1,094,342.38 more during his first four years in Houston than he would in L.A. As for that fifth season, it’s not uncommon for stars to opt out of the final year, rendering it useless as a bargaining chip for the Lakers.
L.A. might be able to offer more years, but simply put, the city of Houston can offer more money.
When it comes down to it, Howard will do what’s right for himself at the end of the day. Houston and Los Angeles are arguably the frontrunners, but there’s bound to be other organizations willing to get in the mix.
But despite the numerous suitors, remember one thing: Free agency is about recruiting, and Houston has the tools to compete.
We already know that Parsons has done his part to get Howard on his side, per Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle, and now it’s up to everyone else to get the big man to take the bait.
Howard won’t be an easy target to nab, but when it’s all said and done, a move to Clutch City might be what both parties need to win an NBA championship.
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