How Dwight Howard Signing Shakes Up NBA Free Agency

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How Dwight Howard Signing Shakes Up NBA Free Agency
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So Dwight Howard is off the market, as is former Atlanta Hawks star Josh Smith, thereby ending what will go down as arguably the longest five-day stretch in the history of NBA free agency.

Now what?

Well, plenty, actually.

Both deals should open up the floodgates for the rest of the league's biggest names still seeking employment. Let's take a look:

The prospects aren't so rosy for at least three of the other four teams that had partaken in the "Dwightmare" sweepstakes.

The Los Angeles Lakers will have only enough financial flexibility to add bargain-bin free agents, lest they make some dramatic moves between now and the end of the summer. That could (hypothetically) mean trading an aging Pau Gasol and/or amnestying a hobbled Kobe Bryant, though it's tough to tell in which direction Lakers brass will turn now that they've been left behind.

The Golden State Warriors did well to seize the opportunity presented by the frenzy over D12. They convinced the Utah Jazz to take on the expiring contracts of Andris Biedrins, Richard Jefferson and Brandon Rush by sweetening the pot with draft picks, thereby freeing up money with which to reportedly sign Andre Iguodala to a four-year, $48 million deal.

As for the Hawks and Dallas Mavericks, they both still have cap space to work with, even after signing Paul Millsap (two years, $19 million) and Jose Calderon (four years, $29 million), respectively. 

The return of restricted free-agent point guard Jeff Teague, to whom the Hawks have already extended a qualifying offer, would take a solid chunk out of that. After inking Millsap and Kyle Korver to deals, it's clear general manager Danny Ferry is not interested in rebuilding. 

The Mavs, meanwhile, are left standing at the altar for the second summer running (Deron Williams last year). Dallas will almost certainly use its space aggressively to add players around Dirk Nowitzki, and Calderon was the first big one.

Those two teams, along with the Milwaukee Bucks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Philadelphia 76ers and Portland Trail Blazers, figure to dictate much of the action on the NBA's hot stove—with no shortage of key pieces still to move across the league's chessboard.

Andrew Bynum, the Lakers All-Star-turned-pariah with the Philadelphia 76ers, could be an intriguing choice for the Mavs in the wake of Howard's decision. Bynum didn't play a single minute in Philly last season on account of his chronically troubled knees, though he proved in 2011-12 that he's an All-Star-caliber talent when healthy.

Teams seeking bigs without such drastic red flags will likely turn to Nikola Pekovic. The massive Montenegrin is coming off a breakout year with the Minnesota Timberwolves, in which he averaged 16.3 points and 8.8 rebounds per game.

Trouble is, he's a restricted free agent, and the Timberwolves seem to have every intention of matching whatever offer sheet comes his way. The same goes for point guard Brandon Jennings of the Milwaukee Bucks.

As far as free agents without restrictions are concerned, Monta Ellis and Andrei Kirilenko stand out among those not previously mentioned who should see interest from teams pick up now that Howard's out of the picture.

Greg Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Of those players, Kirilenko may be the most useful to a potential contender, thanks to his versatility on both ends of the floor.

Beyond that group, the pool of potential signees dries up rather quickly—which is good news for those teams operating on shoestring budgets. For everyone else, quality role players like J.J. Hickson, Mo Williams, Corey Brewer, Carlos Delfino, Chris Kaman and Marreese Speights could be available at relatively steep discounts if teams stay patient and play their cards right.

Of course, that is anything but a guarantee, considering the league's history of executives overpaying players.

For most involved, though, the end of the "Dwightmare" is a positive development.

The Rockets get their man, the rest of the free-agent crop can start sorting itself out, and fans, front-office folks and media types alike can rejoice in no longer having to huddle over their devices to hear the latest on what Howard had for lunch while entertaining guests in L.A. or hashing out his future in Aspen.

Even supporters of the squads that lost out on Howard can gain some measure of comfort from the closure that comes with Howard's departure from the ranks of the unsigned.

They can also look forward to seeing and hearing which other free agents will be wearing the threads of their favorite teams come late October.

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