The 2013 NBA free agency period has officially become the "Summer of Dwight Howard". Hopefully we will be put out of our misery and the Dwight Howard rumors can stop after he decides which team he wants to play for over the next four to five years. Then again, this is a man who has made Brett Favre look decisive, so maybe the "Dwightmare" isn’t over yet.
Apparently Dwight Howard is all about winning championships now, and his free-agency decision will be based on which team gives him the best chance to adorn his big hands with some pretty rings.
In today’s NBA landscape, it seems impossible to be a contender without multiple stars on your team. Howard’s pipe dream of leading a free-agency coup and teaming up with Chris Paul was squashed yesterday after Paul announced his decision to remain a Los Angeles Clipper.
He still has plenty of options, however, and there are five stops scheduled on his NBA free-agency tour. Which team gives Dwight Howard the best chance to win titles and build his legacy?
Unfortunately for Hawks fans, this meeting is just a courtesy to his hometown team. Dwight Howard has never really shown any interest in playing for the Atlanta Hawks, other than the fact that they were the only team with the cap space to sign both Howard and Chris Paul to maximum contracts this offseason.
With Paul no longer on the market, they have nothing to offer Dwight Howard in the way of championship contention.
Al Horford is a great young player who could form a dominant frontcourt with Howard, but the Hawks have no other pieces. Josh Smith wouldn’t provide the necessary firepower or spacing, and there are no current free agents that would make them a contender.
Tyreke Evans, J.R. Smith, Monta Ellis, Brandon Jennings and O.J. Mayo headline the free-agent guards, and all of them have serious questions that need to be answered before they could make the Dwight Howard-led Atlanta Hawks a championship-caliber team.
The Hawks’ free-agency plan was always an all-or-nothing gamble for Paul and Howard. With Paul staying put, they’ll wind up with nothing.
Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers
For this season, neither the Dallas Mavericks nor the Los Angeles Lakers have serious title aspirations. Los Angeles certainly has a better chance than the Mavs in their current state, but the Lakers are shrouded in uncertainty.
First, it is unknown when Kobe Bryant will return from his torn Achilles tendon and how productive he can be upon his return (although according to his social media accounts, the Black Mamba will be back with a vengeance by November). It is also unclear how effective Steve Nash will be and whether he can last an entire season.
Pau Gasol established some chemistry with Dwight Howard towards the end of the season, especially with Bryant out, but re-signing Howard would put the Lakers deep into luxury tax country. If Howard re-signs, GM Mitch Kupchak might use the amnesty provision to clear Gasol’s contract off the books and soften the tax penalties.
Perhaps the Lakers stars can come together and meet the lofty expectations of last season, but even if they do, they still don’t have a bench and Dwight Howard was not a fan of a Mike D’Antoni offense that favors pick-and-rolls over post-up opportunities.
Realistically, the Mavs and Lakers are offering Howard the same thing, and that’s why I have grouped the two teams together here. Both organizations are trying to sell Howard on the huge amount of cap room that they will have in the summer of 2014.
Their selling point is clear: both teams will build around Dwight Howard as the center of their futures, and they both have the commitment to winning and the financial resources to surround him with multiple stars in NBA free agency next year.
The only question is which superstars that can form a championship-caliber core with Dwight Howard will hit free agency next summer?
There are some elder statesmen that could contribute to a championship team, but they wouldn’t do so for very long. This list includes Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Paul Pierce, Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan.
It seems highly unlikely that Duncan, Nowitzki or Kobe would leave their current teams. The Kobe Bryant-Dwight Howard partnership has not gone smoothly, and while Howard can’t question Kobe’s desire to win, he may not be able to tolerate his fiery passion.
Dirk Nowitzki has told ESPN that he will re-sign with the Mavericks at a significantly discounted rate next season. He is willing to take a pay cut large enough to allow them to pursue another upper-tier free agent.
Either way, while Nowitzki and Bryant could be superstars on a championship team, their careers are coming to a close and that would soon leave Dwight Howard recruiting free agents to join him.
There are some talented young prospects like Paul George, John Wall, Eric Bledsoe and Greg Monroe that will hit the market next summer. Unfortunately for Dwight Howard, they are all restricted free agents and their teams will probably match any offer sheets they may sign with the Lakers or Mavs.
Between the two clubs, the Los Angeles Lakers are a better option for Howard with a chance (though it’s a small chance, they have a better shot than the Mavs) to pull it together and compete this year. The Lakers also boast the championship pedigree, large market and all the off-court amenities to please Dwight Howard and lure future superstar free agents.
Nevertheless, all the cap space in the world doesn’t mean anything if they can’t pair Howard with another young superstar like James Harden or Stephen Curry. The bottom line is that neither team provides Howard with a great opportunity to contend for championships over the next five years. If rings are what he truly desires, he should look elsewhere.
Golden State Warriors*
That asterisk you see is because the Warriors are not actually players in the 2013 NBA free agency game. They could only get Dwight Howard if the Lakers agreed to a sign-and-trade deal, something they have appeared unwilling to do, according to Arash Markazi of ESPN LA.
If that is the case, then the Warriors aren’t even a factor in Dwight Howard’s decision. While the Lakers seem to be content to let Howard leave for nothing and soothe their swollen cap situation, the Warriors have two young pieces that will interest Mitch Kupchak: Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes.
If the Lakers demand Thompson AND Barnes, the Warriors should walk away. If the Warriors only offer Andrew Bogut and other expiring contracts (like Andris Biedrins, Richard Jefferson or Brandon Rush), the Lakers should let Dwight Howard walk away.
The only trade that would make some sense for both teams is Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut for Dwight Howard. Barnes is a solid all-around player with great athleticism and the defensive length and instincts to become a stopper at the small forward position–something you need to be a contender in today’s NBA going up against Kevin Durant and LeBron James.
While he is not a primary or even secondary scorer, he wouldn’t need to be on a Lakers team with Kobe Bryant. The only question for the Lakers is whether they want Bogut’s expiring contract or the cap space that Dwight Howard would leave.
Barnes is a great young prospect and a better fit than Klay Thompson for the Lakers if they plan to re-sign Kobe Bryant next summer. Bogut would also give them defense and size at the center position, although he is definitely not a fit for D’Antoni’s offense.
In the Bay Area, a lineup that starred Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Dwight Howard could be dangerous. Like, championship-contender dangerous…potentially.
The best shooting backcourt in the NBA would thrive off any double-teams sent Dwight Howard’s way, and he in turn would thrive off one-on-one opportunities in the low post. It would resemble the floor spacing of the 2009 Orlando Magic, but with two potent scorers that are extremely capable of creating their own shots.
Draymond Green is a small-ball four that would allow Mark Jackson to downsize and push the tempo whenever he desires, a tactic they employed with great success in the playoffs.
Furthermore, the Warriors will actually have more cap space than the Rockets next summer, at least until the Rockets trade Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik.
There is a reason for that asterisk, as it seems unlikely that the Lakers would make a trade instead of letting Dwight Howard leave. But if the trade I discussed works out, then the Warriors are Howard’s best chance at winning NBA championships.
The Houston Rockets’ sales pitch to Dwight Howard is pretty similar to that of Golden State. He can join forces with a young superstar in James Harden, and together they could play an up-tempo style of basketball with floor spacing that would resemble the Orlando Magic teams that Dwight Howard had so much success with.
The Rockets roster is slightly worse than Golden State’s, and they don’t have as much cap space as Golden State will next year (at least not yet), but they offer Dwight Howard two things that the Warriors cannot.
A definite opportunity to join their team, and the chance to play in Texas where there is no state income tax.
The tandem of Harden and Howard would immediately be one of the top duos in the NBA, rivaling the James-Wade pairing in Miami and the Durant-Westbrook partnership in Oklahoma City. Throw in an emerging Chandler Parsons who displayed an improved outside shot in the playoffs and the ability to play the role of a small-ball four, and the Rockets have the potential to contend.
In addition, head coach Kevin McHale is a Hall of Fame big man with a legendary repertoire of low-post moves and Hakeem Olajuwon lives in Houston and has worked with Dwight Howard in the past. The coaching could do wonders for Howard’s offensive game, and McHale’s system will certainly be more to Howard’s liking than anything the Lakers tried last year.
Of all the teams he could sign with, the Houston Rockets are his best chance to contend for NBA titles.
If championships are what it is all about for Dwight Howard, his 2013 free-agency decision should come down to two teams: the Houston Rockets and the Golden State Warriors. The only reason for him to even consider Los Angeles would be if he had inside information that LeBron James will take his talents to Venice Beach.
When it comes to picking between the two teams, the choice will be made for him by Mitch Kupchak. If the Lakers are willing to trade Dwight Howard to Golden State for Bogut and Barnes/Thompson, then that is his best option.
If they don’t want to trade him, he should sign with Houston. Either way, NBA teams and fans are collectively holding their breath; his free-agency decision will brighten the future for one lucky franchise and possibly crush the title aspirations of others.
No pressure, big fella.
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