Dwight Howard Rumors: Separating Fact from Fiction in Latest D12 Buzz

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 22, 2013

Dwight Howard Rumors: Separating Fact from Fiction in Latest D12 Buzz

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    Dwight Howard hasn't said anything about his free-agent decision since his first season with the Los Angeles Lakers came to an untimely, abrupt end in late April.

    Frankly, he hasn't needed to. The rumor mill has kept humming even without word from the star himself.

    Read on for the latest rumors surrounding D12's free agency.

Will the Los Angeles Lakers Facilitate a Sign-and-Trade Deal for Dwight Howard?

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    A tool that many teams could be looking to use in order to circumvent the salary cap in a deal for Howard is the sign-and-trade. That would allow D12 to seek out the team of his choice and still receive a maximum contract even if they ended up over the salary cap by signing him.

    One problem that could arise with a sign-and-trade involving Howard over the summer is that a new rule goes into effect following this season. Teams cannot participate in a sign-and-trade if they end up over the luxury-tax apron ($4 million above the tax line) at the conclusion of the trade.

    A deal like this would make sense for the Lakers. They could pick up a few young players and start to rebuild, even if it did mean taking on a pretty hefty contract or two in the process.

    However, according to Mark Heisler of Lakers Nation, they aren't looking to participate in a sign-and-trade with the Houston Rockets, who seem to be the main team seeking one.

    Another team that might be interested? The Los Angeles Clippers. According to ESPN's Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne, the Clippers are "weighing the prospect" of offering Blake Griffin and Eric Bledsoe in a sign-and-trade deal for Howard.

    However, according to Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times, the Clippers are not interested in sending a Griffin-Bledsoe package to the Lakers for Howard.

    In another twist, Stein and Shelburne reported on June 16 that the Lakers "remain confident" they'll re-sign Howard, and although a sign-and-trade deal is unlikely with any team, the Lakers reportedly haven't ruled it out completely. 

    The two also report that the Rockets will attempt to take a sign-and-trade package involving Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin, but Los Angeles will turn that down every single time it's offered.

    Verdict: Fact

    Letting Howard walk would save the Lakers nearly $50 million in luxury-tax payments next season. It would also leave them with just under $10 million on the books next summer.

    With a free-agency bonanza on the horizon for 2014—a class that could include LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and a bevy of skilled veterans—having cap space to play with would definitely be a tempting option for the Lakers.

    Kobe Bryant's status is unknown, and next year's team is still very much in doubt.

Howard to Consider Five Teams (Or More?)

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    According to a May 22 report from Lakers beat writer Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News, Howard has considered the Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets, Atlanta Hawks and Golden State Warriors as his free-agent process continues to unfold.

    On May 31, Alex Kennedy of HoopsWorld tweeted that Howard would sit down and meet with all of his potential suitors.

    While we've heard of the first four teams, the Warriors are a new entrant into the mix. They contemplated trading for the superstar big man during the 2011-12 season but ultimately ended their pursuit once Andrew Bogut was brought in.

    As far as taking on Howard in the present, there is one major roadblock: Unless the combination of Richard Jefferson and Andris Biedrins are prepared to leave a combined $20 million on the table and opt out of their contracts with the Warriors, the team will not have the salary flexibility to sign Howard to a long-term deal.

    What's more, a May 24 report from Ric Bucher of CSN Bay Area challenges the idea that such a list even exists at all, breaking down how the Warriors and Hawks in particular are long shots.

    However, HoopsWorld's Steve Kyler widened the discussion of landing spots in question on June 13, tweeting that the San Antonio Spurs and Brooklyn Nets could be Howard suitors as well.

    That said, the Nets would need to engineer a sign-and-trade to bring Howard to Brooklyn, while Gregg Popovich would have to be convinced Dwight could fit in the Spurs system in order to bring him to San Antonio.

    Verdict: Fiction

    We all know Howard is going to shop himself around in free agency in an effort to see where the best fit may be, but we're scratching Golden State off the list early. It's an interesting idea, but it's one that is unlikely to come to fruition.

    As for Kyler's rumor, the Spurs and Howard seem like an odd marriage considering the alternatives, while the Nets would not be able to court Howard after he hits the open market and the sign-and-trade option comes off the table.

    Ultimately, the Lakers, Mavs, Rockets and Hawks are the only reasonable suitors out there.

James Harden Is Recruiting Howard to Join the Rockets

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    According to a May 22 report from Alex Kennedy of HoopsWorld, Rockets guard James Harden is already pitching plenty of free agents on the merits of life in Houston. Naturally, his list of calls includes Howard.

    Per Kennedy: "While Harden’s on-court production was outstanding, his biggest contribution may come during the offseason. That’s because Harden has already started recruiting big-time free agents to Houston, including unrestricted free agent Dwight Howard among others, according to sources close to the situation. If Houston is able to land Howard or another high-profile free agent this summer, they would instantly become a contender in the Western Conference and Harden would deserve much of the credit."

    It's unclear at this point whether the Rockets would opt to try and sign Howard outright or acquire him in a sign-and-trade scenario. One thing is clear, though: Houston is interested in D12.

    Kennedy reaffirmed his earlier report by tweeting on May 31 that Harden and Chandler Parsons both spoke with Howard.

    We know Howard ended up in Los Angeles because he wanted attention and a championship ring (in no particular order), so Harden attempting to sell the big man on the Rockets' upward trajectory on the court and increasing "cool factor" off it is certainly intriguing.  

    Verdict: Fact

    This one's easy. We know free agents discuss potential destinations all the time. Just look at the way Chris Bosh and LeBron James organized their joint signing with the Miami Heat a couple of years ago.

    Kennedy notes in his report that there's no rule prohibiting free agents from talking to other players about their options, so it makes sense that Harden is making a push to land Howard.

    The bearded one better make mention of the fact that Texas has no state income tax; that would help soften the blow if Howard were to eschew the $118 million he can get by signing with the Lakers for the $88 million Houston has to offer. 

Houston Is a Realistic Landing Spot for Howard

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    On May 19, CBS Sports' Ken Berger reported that multiple league sources told him the Houston Rockets have emerged as one of the most intriguing suitors for Howard.

    Berger cited the presences of All-Star James Harden, sharpshooter Chandler Parsons, bruiser Omer Asik and defensive whiz head coach Kevin McHale as potential draws to lure Howard to H-Town.

    He also noted that the Rockets have the financial flexibility to make room for a substantial contract offer for the free agent, and they could clear that space without sacrificing any key contributors.

    According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, the Rockets are already in the process of trying to clear said cap space. Per his May 30 report, Houston is determined to trade Thomas Robinson to clear his $3.52 million salary from its books.

    Robinson is still less than a year removed from being selected with the fifth overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft. The fact that the Rockets are willing to jettison a player with such a team-friendly deal whose potential remains high is proof positive that they're not joking about their pursuit of Howard.

    ESPN's Marc Stein confirmed this in his May 31 report, then added that the Rockets are "feeling hopeful" about their chances of luring Howard. He will reportedly sit down with Houston and the Dallas Mavericks when the free-agency period opens up.

    Chris Sheridan of Sheridan Hoops also reported on May 31 that the Rockets were getting "hopeful signals" from Howard about his feelings on signing, and that the big man had mentioned his interest to Harden.

    According to a May 31 tweet from Alex Kennedy of HoopsWorld, Houston is not only in the mix, but it might actually be the front-runner to land Howard's services.

    Add in a report from Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle on June 9 that Howard and Chris Paul would be targets "1 and 1A" for the Rockets, and it's easy to see why we believe Houston is a very realistic landing spot for Howard.

    Verdict: Fact

    Despite Harden's breakout season (25.9 points, 4.9 rebounds, 5.8 assists per game), the bearded one may have no problem ceding the leadership role to Howard. Harden played a supportive role to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook with the Oklahoma City Thunder and saw an NBA Finals trip as his reward.

    And the players around Harden are in place to form a strong complementary core. There are defensive stoppers (Asik, Patrick Beverley) and scorers (Parsons, Jeremy Lin) who could help Houston thrive in a variety of styles.

    The financial hit Howard may feel in the short term (L.A. can offer the most money and most years on his deal) would be lessened by the lack of a state income tax in Texas. It could be wiped out in a future deal if he can secure another max contract down the line.

Howard "Torn" Between Playing for Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets

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    According to Sam Amick of USA Today in a report dropped on May 21, Howard is "torn" between playing for the Los Angeles Lakers and the up-and-coming Houston Rockets.

    Would Howard rather continue his career alongside James Harden or Kobe Bryant?

    Per Amick, he's not so sure: "Despite all signs pointing to his Lakers return late in the season, the star whose infamous indecisiveness led to his Orlando saga being dubbed "The Dwightmare" is—according to a person with knowledge of his situation—torn between the idea of Laker life or the notion of joining a Houston Rockets club that looks so much more appealing with James Harden and Co. in tow."

    Did you hear that? It's the sound of another storm brewing overhead. This one has a familiar name in that we're calling it the "Dwightmare." It feels like we just had one of those, doesn't it?

    Verdict: Fact

    Howard has never known what to do with his future, and this is one of the prime reasons his tenure in Orlando ended on the rocks.

    Howard is waffling in the wind despite publicly hinting his intent to remain with the Lakers during the season. Lakers Nation doesn't have the patience to wait on a star who may or may not want to be in town long term.

Howard "Wide Open" to Playing for Dallas

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    According to a May 19 report from CBS Sports' Ken Berger, the Dallas Mavericks are one of the teams Howard will consider signing with this summer.

    Bill Ingram of HoopsWorld took Berger's sentiment a step further in a May 27 tweet, reporting that Howard is actually "wide open" to joining the Mavs.

    ESPN's Chad Ford reported on May 21 that the Mavericks will "likely" trade their No. 13 overall pick in the upcoming draft in order to preserve cap space for a run at Howard.

    ESPN's Marc Stein mentioned on May 31 that Dallas would be one of the teams Howard sits down with one-on-one when the free-agency period opens up.

    The expiring contracts of Chris Kaman and Anthony Morrow, combined with O.J. Mayo's decision to decline his player option, freed up more than $16 million in cap room for the Mavs. They only have rookie Jared Cunningham's team option on the books beyond next season.

    Dallas owner Mark Cuban is committed to building one more championship contender around Dirk Nowitzki, and he has spent the past two seasons creating the financial room needed to land a star.

    Verdict: Fact

    The animated Cuban seems like the type of owner Howard would enjoy playing for, and Nowitzki is the kind of stretch forward he has succeeded with in the past. 

    With Dirk willing to take a significant pay cut in order to create some financial wiggle room to build up the rest of the team, the Mavericks could turn in a drastic roster overhaul this summer.

    Dallas isn't the same attractive market that Los Angeles is, and they don't have the youth of the Houston Rockets, but there is a top player to pair him with and the potential for a few more free-agent acquisitions along the way.

    The Mavs have proven that they can build a championship-caliber team, and they remain in a tax-friendly state, so it makes sense that Howard would be willing to at least hear Cuban's pitch. 

Howard and Chris Paul Will Join Forces in Atlanta

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    HoopsWorld's Alex Kennedy reported on May 19 that the Atlanta Hawks will pursue both Howard and fellow free agent Chris Paul, in the hopes of landing both.

    GM Danny Ferry's cost-cutting maneuvers have freed the franchise of all but three contracts for the 2013-14 season (via HoopsHype), and his decisions on a number of team options will likely come after Howard and Paul are taken off the market.

    There are some logical reasons why the superstar duo might consider signing there. Howard's an Atlanta native, while Paul was born in nearby Lewisville, N.C.

    Also working in Atlanta's favor is the two stars' desire to play together. Per ESPN's Chris Broussard, Howard would sign with the Hawks if Paul did, and the duo has texted about the prospect of joining forces this summer.

    If that wish wins out, Atlanta is the only Howard suitor with sufficient cap space to pay Paul a max salary as well.

    Verdict: Fiction

    Atlanta's tried to get in the Howard sweepstakes before, and the big man has consistently expressed no interest in returning to his hometown.

    More than that, though, Dwight would be setting himself up for another frontcourt pairing with a post-oriented player in Al Horford. A combination of Horford and Howard would clog the interior, and not on the end where it would matter most.

Howard Doesn't Want to Play for Mike D'Antoni

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    Howard expressed frustrations about coach Mike D'Antoni to Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak in an extended exit interview, according to what league sources told ESPN's Dave McMenamin in his May 21 report.

    However, according to Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register, Kupchak denied the rift between the two and said he and Howard never discussed D'Antoni after the season. Further, according to Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News, Kupchak said that D'Antoni did not come up when he and Howard met after the season.

    D'Antoni was slow to adapt his system to the Lakers roster, and his stubborn approach nearly cost the team a playoff spot. Howard had only attempted fewer than the 10.7 field goals he averaged this season three times in his nine-year career.

    McMenamin also reported that Howard felt overlooked by his coach, who often sought out Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash for help. 

    Verdict: Fact

    Although a source told McMenamin that it's not a D'Antoni-or-Howard situation for the Lakers, it certainly feels as though the Lakers could bolster their chances to re-sign the star center if D'Antoni was removed from the equation.

    D'Antoni's attempt to get Howard to buy into his pick-and-roll system was not misguided. With his size (6'11", 265 lbs) and athleticism, "Superman" could be a nightmarish matchup exploding out of screens and racing to the basket.

    Howard had a decorated past before this season, headlined by six All-Star selections and an NBA Finals appearance. He wants to shake the reputation that he is not an elite post scorer, and he won't have that opportunity as long as D'Antoni is calling the shots.

Howard Has Concerns About Playing with Kobe Bryant

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    Mark Heisler of Lakers Nation reported on May 21 that a league source told him Dwight Howard "complained privately" about Kobe Bryant late in the season. 

    This is no different than the overtures heard from L.A. earlier in the year, the same ones that the pair poked fun at in a play-fight Twitter picture from Bryant.

    The two superstars could not be any more different in terms of personality. Mamba is a fiery competitor, and D12 is a carefree star clearly enjoying every second of his privileged life.

    Their clashing styles came to the forefront when Bryant asked for more "urgency" from his center's recovery from a shoulder injury. Howard fired back, via Bernie Augustine of the New York Daily News, saying, "He's not a doctor." 

    Verdict: Fact

    More than their contrasting temperaments, there's the undeniable fact that both players feel the need to fill the alpha-dog role on the roster. As long as Kobe is in L.A., Howard won't be the focal point of the offense.

D'Antoni "On Board" with Howard Being Bigger Part of Lakers Offense Next Season

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    Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register reported on May 22 that Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak expects Howard to be a prominent figure in the team's offense next season, filling a similar role to the one he occupied down the stretch last year.

    And perhaps more importantly, coach Mike D'Antoni is "on board" with the idea.

    In the final two months of the 2012-13 regular season, Howard took more shots per game (11.9) than he did in any other full month during the year. Clearly, the Lakers had already adopted a more "Dwight-centric" offensive approach as the season wore on.

    The strategy didn't really produce spectacular results, as L.A.'s offensive ratings in March (105.4) and April (106.3) didn't amount to a figure that was markedly different from its overall season rating of 105.6.

    Verdict: Fact

    This one's fact for a couple of reasons.

    First, Kupchak and D'Antoni are saying Howard is going to be heavily featured in the Lakers attack next year. If they're interested in wooing Howard to re-sign with the team, they'd be crazy to do anything other than promise him that. 

    Second, the Lakers are probably going to have to feature Howard more prominently next year by default. Kobe Bryant won't be healthy enough to shoulder the offensive load he has in the past, Steve Nash will be another year older and Pau Gasol has never been willing to take on primary scoring duties.

    That leaves Howard to fill the scoring void.