Dwightmare 2013 is off and running!
What? You're not excited about it?
I for one can empathize. The NBA and those who love it have been plagued by the question of Dwight Howard's future for well over two years now, since he first flirted publicly with the idea of teaming up with Deron Williams on what would become the Brooklyn Nets.
Now, Dwight finds himself back in the limelight, this time with his fate firmly within his own grasp. By the end of July 2, Howard will have been entertained by the Houston Rockets, Golden State Warriors, Atlanta Hawks, Dallas Mavericks and the incumbent Los Angeles Lakers. Come July 10, he'll have picked out his home team for the next four-to-five years.
Or so he says, according to Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles.
How do those five teams stack up in this particular rat race? We don't have a direct line into Howard's indecisive head, but we'll do our best to handicap the likelihood of each destination city landing the signature of the NBA's latest insufferable superstar.
The Golden State Warriors' chances of landing Dwight Howard are better than those of Lloyd Christmas with Mary Swanson, but not by much.
The Warriors don't have the cap space to sign Dwight outright, to say the least. Per Basketball Reference, Golden State's payroll (about $73 million) is already high enough to incur luxury-tax penalties. That leaves the Warriors with only small exceptions and veteran's minimum contracts to lure free agents to the Bay Area.
Needless to say, Howard wouldn't take a severe pay cut, even if it meant joining forces with an exciting, young core of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes. Dwight certainly understands the value of being surrounded by shooters, as was the case during his salad days with the Orlando Magic.
The only way Howard winds up in Oakland is via sign-and-trade. But if the Dubs think a package of Andrew Bogut and either Andris Biedrins or Richard Jefferson would be enough to get a deal done, as Marcus Thompson of The Contra Costa Times reported, they'd be sorely mistaken.
Whatever cap relief those contracts would offer next summer could just as easily be gained by letting Dwight walk for nothing—without having to incur a massive luxury-tax penalty to pay a pair of middling, injury-prone veterans in 2013-14.
Now, if Golden State were willing to offer one of its young studs—say, Thompson or Barnes—then the Lakers might pick up the phone.
Though, at that point, a Warriors team without one of those two probably wouldn't entice Dwight enough to force a sign-and-trade.
Usually, you'd think the opportunity to play in his hometown, in front of friends and family, would entice a superstar to sign with a particular team.
But Dwight Howard's relationship with the Atlanta Hawks apparently isn't quite so rosy. He's never shown any inclination toward playing for the Hawks, perhaps because they were terrible during his adolescence.
Or, perhaps because he's just not all that keen on returning to his roots in the ATL.
Whatever the case may be, the Hawks' odds of luring Dwight back to Georgia took a significant hit once it became clear that Chris Paul wasn't leaving the Los Angeles Clippers.
Those two had allegedly entertained notions of teaming up in years past, and the Hawks, with their potentially ample financial flexibility, were the only team that could make that happen without an inordinate amount of salary-cap trickery.
Unless the Lakers and the Clippers were ever willing to talk sign-and-trade...which they weren't, per ESPN's Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne.
Dwight could certainly do worse than join a frontcourt that already features an All-Star in Al Horford. Then again, if winning really is Howard's main objective, he could do better than plant himself in the same division as the two-time defending champion Miami Heat again.
The Dallas Mavericks have not fared as well in free agency as their creative front office and aggressive ownership would suggest they should. Losing out on Deron Williams last year was just the latest in a line of swinging strikes incurred by the Mavs, perhaps on account of the fact that they haven't always treated their own free agents so well (see: Nash, Steve; Chandler, Tyson).
Granted, the plan itself makes plenty of sense. Bring in one marquee free agent now and another later, after Dirk Nowitzki's re-signed at a steep discount, and voila! You've got yourself a superteam.
In the interim, though, Howard would once again be left to toil away on a team that'd still be well behind the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference hierarchy.
Not to mention the uncertainty inherent in the free-agent class of 2014. Big names will abound, but so many of them will be old (Kobe Bryant, Paul Pierce, Pau Gasol), reluctant to opt out (LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony) or already off the market prior to restricted free agency (Paul George, John Wall, Greg Monroe, DeMarcus Cousins).
Then again, Dallas is the most recent champion of Dwight's suitors and employs one of the best coaches in the business in Rick Carlisle. And if Howard wants to be on TV, he'd have an owner in Mark Cuban with strong connections thereabouts.
Of course, if pop-culture cachet is that important to Dwight, he'd do just as well to stay in L.A. According to Arash Markazi of ESPN Los Angeles, the Lakers' pitch to Howard will include his own show on Time Warner Cable Sports Net, which broadcasts the team's games and produces original content for the Purple and Gold.
If the opportunity to win right away is still paramount, then the Lakers will have a tougher time getting their points across. With or without Dwight, the 2013-14 Lakers will feature a bloated payroll buoyed by the injured Kobe Bryant, the aging Pau Gasol, the soon-to-retire Steve Nash...and Metta World Peace.
That core might've been enough to win a title three years ago, but it leaves the Lakers far from championship contention in 2013. Fans in L.A. saw that all too clearly this past season, when injuries, coaching changes and overall discord derailed a squad that many thought would be one of the three or four best teams in the NBA.
At this point, the Lakers' best hope is to play up what an aberration 2012-13 was and how much better 2013-14 will be with a healthy-ish roster (aside from Kobe) and a full offseason spent reshaping the personnel to fit Mike D'Antoni's (and Dwight's) specifications.
Howard surely knows how important fitness is. He struggled through much of the season while recovering from back surgery, and he only began to show more frequent glimpses of his old self down the stretch as he approached proper playing shape.
L.A.'s plans for the summer of 2014—when the team's cap will be all but clean and the free-agent market potentially flooded with big names—will come into play, along with the franchise's track record of loading up on the who's who of basketball.
If nothing else, the Lakers can play up their rich history of superstar centers and the immortality he'd achieve by joining them with a championship of his own.
Not to mention the fact that they can pay Dwight about $30 million more than anyone else can.
According to multiple reports, including one from Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, the Houston Rockets dipped into their own tradition of great bigs—from Hakeem Olajuwon to Yao Ming—to entice Dwight to come to Space City during their meeting with Howard on the opening night of free agency.
As impressive as Houston's own lineage may be, it still pales in comparison to the one about which the Lakers so frequently boast, especially when considering that the Lakers have won five titles since the Rockets last advanced to the conference finals.
The strength of the Rockets' bid lies in the team's immediate future. Houston gave the (Russell Westbrook-less) Oklahoma City Thunder a run for their money in the first round of the playoffs this past spring, despite a lineup that featured Jeremy Lin at the point, Omer Asik in the middle and a who's who of "who's that?" at power forward.
Replace Asik with Howard and Lin with Patrick Beverley, who opened some eyes against OKC, and you've got the makings of a core group that can contend now and well into the future, with James Harden and Chandler Parsons on the wings.
General manager Daryl Morey will have his fair share of exceptions with which to work his magic once the Rockets have hit the salary cap. Another shooter or two would give Houston the tools to fashion an inside-out attack not unlike that in which Dwight once thrived in Orlando.
Let's not forget about the allure of Kevin McHale, the Rockets' current head coach. If Howard intends to improve his low-post game, he could do worse than enlist the assistance of McHale, a brilliant back-to-the-basket operator during his time with the Boston Celtics.
Not to mention Hakeem, who's worked with Howard in the past and still lives in the Houston area.
All of this has had Houston atop Howard's list of destinations for some time, and if the reports out of L.A. are to be believed, that internal hierarchy hasn't changed.