Dwight Howard is a top-tier free agent who can help form a superteam, but are there enough others?
You can count the number of NBA superstars on non-playoff teams on one hand. Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving and, now, Rajon Rondo are the few examples of elite players situated on bad teams.
That's the new nature of the league—superstars are generally good enough to push their teams into the postseason, but few can do it alone. The highest objective for most any franchise is the creation of a superteam.
The formula: Establish a superstar, create enough cap space to either sign or trade for a second superstar, and immediately begin seeking that third superstar. The topper on it all is to sign an aging, but still highly skilled player who’s seeking a championship, a la Ray Allen.
It's a proven recipe that has won a title each of the past two seasons for the Miami Heat.
To build a mansion in the NBA’s eclectic neighborhood, which also features modest houses and homes being rebuilt, requires a risk that the superstars may not play well together. It’s talent first and proper fit later. Team chemistry is a secondary issue, as illustrated by the Los Angeles Lakers of last season—an aging superteam that did not mesh.
The Brooklyn Nets are the latest example, adding Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to a starting lineup already featuring Deron Williams, Joe Johnson—two superstars that have been trending downward in recent years. Still, the Nets sold off a bit of their future to position themselves as arguably the second-best squad in the conference.
In addition to the Nets, this summer could create yet another superteam. However, the current list of free agents doesn’t offer many ingredients.
Chris Paul has already re-signed with the Clippers, and Josh Smith, Andrew Bynum, Al Jefferson and Andre Iguodala merely creep near the conversation as second- or third-tier stars, leaving Dwight Howard as the only elite player remaining.
If it's the Houston Rockets, the league's best center will join the league's top-scoring guard in James Harden. They would be missing that third star, though, as Jeremy Lin isn't it. Still, the addition of Howard and further progression from Chandler Parsons creates a near superteam.
The San Antonio Spurs, meanwhile, have room to spend as well. It appears they are finalizing a five-year, $45 million extension for center Tiago Splitter, per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports.
Even with Manu Ginobili back in the fold, signing Andre Iguodala still stands as the one move to create a San Antonio super-roster, but that would likely cost more dollars than the Spurs generally spend in free agency.
San Antonio can add to its depth, but there doesn’t seem to be a logical move that brings them into the superteam discussion.
Mark Cuban saved his coin by signing one-year deals after a disastrous free agency last summer. Now with plenty of money to spend, Cuban has explored options to put together a superteam around the still-elite talents of Dirk Nowitzki.
Nowitzki’s legs are only getting older, and the championship window will require big-ticket action this offseason. Taking that step toward a superteam would include signing Josh Smith and perhaps a scorer like Monta Ellis or risking dollars on a big man like Andrew Bynum.
If the Mavericks don’t land Howard, a superteam becomes extremely unlikely.
The Atlanta Hawks had enough salary to support bringing in both Paul and Howard to join Al Horford, but Paul stuck with the Clippers, and teaming with Al Horford isn't enticing enough to sway Howard.
This projected squad would represent yet another fringe superteam.
Kyrie Irving is the first step in a potential superteam for the Cleveland Cavaliers, and they have the salary cap to make a splash. Unfortunately, the Cavs need to pay big money to Irving soon, and losing financial flexibility would make for a short run with any other top-tier free agent on board.
Lastly, there are the Lakers. If they are able to re-sign Howard, Los Angeles will be bringing the gang back together for at least one more year.
Which franchise has the best shot to create a superteam through free agency?
Injuries derailed the start of Howard’s season in 2012-13, Nash was never healthy, Metta World Peace had late-season knee surgery, and Kobe Bryant’s Achilles injury cost him the playoffs. Under coach Mike D’Antoni, next season could offer another shot for a Lakers superteam.
The bottom line is that the formation of a superteam specifically through 2013 free agency will be difficult. The Heat benefited in the 2011 summer through the mutual desires of James and Chris Bosh to join Dwyane Wade in Miami.
This offseason doesn’t have that. Now that Paul and Howard won’t be joining forces, there aren’t enough superstar free agents to form an authentic “superteam.”
Of course, that won’t stop creative attempts.