If Dwight Howard Really Cared About Winning, He Would Have Signed for Less

Bryan ToporekFeatured ColumnistJuly 7, 2013

Dwight Howard's new maximum contract with the Houston Rockets could prove to be a challenge in the coming years.
Dwight Howard's new maximum contract with the Houston Rockets could prove to be a challenge in the coming years.Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Dwight Howard claims that above all else, he put a premium on winning when weighing his free-agency options during the 2013 offseason, according to ESPN's Dave McMenamin and Ramona Shelburne.

"I want to win," Howard told Hoopsworld's Alex Kennedy on July 5, the day he announced his decision to join the Houston Rockets. "Nothing else matters other than winning."

That claim rings somewhat hollow, however, when you consider the size of the contract that he agreed upon with Houston.

Howard, unsurprisingly, plans on signing a four-year, $88 million maximum contract with the Rockets, according to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, which includes an early termination option after the 2015-16 season and a 15 percent trade kicker.

But if Howard truly cared about winning more than all else, he would have learned from the example set by the Miami Heat's Big Three.

When LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade decided to team up during the summer of 2010, all three players knew it would immediately require sacrifices both on and off the court.

James, Wade and Bosh each earned $15,779,912 during the 2009-10 season, yet all three signed for less than that with Miami the following season. James and Bosh each made $14,500,000 during their first year in Miami (2010-11), while Wade earned $14,200,000.

The maximum salary in the 2010-11 season for a player with seven years in the NBA was $16,324,500, according to Larry Coon's 2005 salary cap FAQ. Joe Johnson ended up receiving that exact amount from the Atlanta Hawks, which immediately turned him into one of the biggest contractual albatrosses in the league.  

Over the span of their respective six-year contracts, James and Bosh could each earn $109,837,500 and Wade could pull in $107,565,000 (in the unlikely event that none of them opt out of their contracts early), while Johnson will make $123,658,089.

In essence, James, Wade and Bosh each took a discount of roughly $2 million per year.

Between the three of them, those savings added up for Miami.

That extra $6 million in cap space could be devoted to filling out the rest of the roster with quality contributors like Shane Battier, Udonis Haslem, Mike Miller and Ray Allen, all of whom played essential roles in guiding Miami to back-to-back NBA championships in 2012 and 2013.

Even with the small contractual sacrifices made by James, Wade and Bosh, the Heat will struggle to field such a loaded team over the next few seasons. The league's latest collective bargaining agreement hammers teams above the luxury-tax line in an unprecedented manner, both in terms of taxes to be paid out and methods of acquiring players via free agency or trades.

Other superstars who hope to emulate the Heat's star trio should be paying close attention to how the new CBA restricts teams from doing just that.

Take the New York Knicks, for example. With Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire each signed to maximum contracts, they're set to earn approximately $44 million combined in the 2013-14 season.

If the salary cap comes in at $58.5 million, that would leave the Knicks roughly $14.5 million to fill out the rest of the roster. That's before considering any of the other contracts currently on their books. (Tyson Chandler makes $14.1 million alone in 2013-14, for instance.)

In other words, teams can't realistically have three maximum-salaried players under the new CBA. Having two max-salary players is punishing enough on a team's cap space.  

That could soon leave Houston in a tight spot, as both Howard and James Harden will command maximum salaries through the 2016-17 season.

Harden's max salary is significantly smaller than Howard's, however, because players with fewer than seven years of service in the NBA are limited to a max salary of $13,668,750 in their first year of a new contract.

According to Hoopsworld, Howard will command $20,513,178 during the 2013-14 season alone. His contract value will increase by 105 percent each year thereafter, per the maximum salary rules in the latest CBA, rising to $23,282,457 in the 2016-17 season (assuming he doesn't exercise his early termination option).

Howard's decision to accept a full max contract could easily end up haunting the Rockets in their search to add a third star player alongside him and Harden. In fact, it may have already cost them a shot at Josh Smith, who agreed to a four-year, $56 million deal with the Detroit Pistons, according to ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst, the day after Howard committed to Houston.

Had Howard accepted $2-4 million less per season, could that have netted Smith in a sign-and-trade (if the Rockets sent Omer Asik back to the Atlanta Hawks)? There's no way of knowing now, but it's at least a possibility.

Texas having no state income tax will only keep more money in Howard's bank, too. Despite being able to gross nearly $7 million more from a four-year contract with the Los Angeles Lakers (due to the Lakers holding Howard's Bird Rights), he will net $2.6 million more from the Rockets because of the lack of state taxes, according to ESPN.com's Darren Rovell.

So, the next time you hear Howard praising himself for "betting $30 million" on spurning the Lakers to join the Rockets, keep the Miami Big Three in mind.

They're the ones who made legitimate contractual sacrifices to join together.  

Howard, on the other hand?

He proved that earning truckloads of money is just as important to him as winning championships.

Or, as NBA.com's Steve Aschburner tweeted the night of Howard's announcement:

Some sacrifice, huh?


Salary cap info provided by Hoopsworld.com.