Biggest Factors That Could Influence Dwight Howard's Free-Agent Decision

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistJuly 2, 2013

Biggest Factors That Could Influence Dwight Howard's Free-Agent Decision

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    Dwight Howard, your chariot awaits—just as soon as you pick which one you'll be boarding.

    The second half of the Dwightmare is upon us, and as Howard continues to be courted by a number of interested teams, the time for a another decision is nearing.

    At some point, Howard will have to put down the knife, fork and glasses of wine that are being used sell him on future plans of grandeur and decide what locale he'll call home for presumably the next four or five years.

    Will he return to the Los Angeles Lakers, or will he spurn them in favor of a younger contingent with fuller facial hair? Or will he sign with one of the remaining dark horses, surprising just about everyone?

    Once the incessant pitches and ceremonial butt-kissing concludes, Howard will have all the information necessary to make what we hope won't be another impulsive decision.

Influential Friendships

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    Sometimes it's about who you know, and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban knows a lot of people, including Howard's agent, Dan Fegan.

    Ramona Shelburne of ESPN Los Angeles writes that while the Lakers and Houston Rockets are considered the favorites, the Mavs can't be counted out because of how close of friends Fegan and Cuban are.

    Their friendship doesn't guarantee anything obviously, but it doesn't hurt Dallas' chances either.

    Delivering Superman to Big D could be seen as Fegan doing his buddy Cuban a solid, a favor for the next four years.

    More likely, that favor was orchestrating the sit-down in the first place. Fegan has lent the Mavericks Howard's ear, now it's up to Cuban and Dirk Nowitzki to sell him on the prospect of relocating to Dallas.

    Whether or not Fegan will whisper sweet-Dallas somethings into Dwight's ear before he returns remains to be seen.

Kobe Bryant's Retirement Plans

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    Let's do the unthinkable and assume that Howard and Kobe Bryant don't despise each other's sheer existence.

    Perhaps the two don't go to the movies and split milkshakes with two straws, but maybe (just maybe) they can tolerate one another enough to where they can remain teammates. I believe they can; what I don't know is for how much longer they could keep said charade up for.

    Not that they actually hate each other. It's a bit ridiculous to think they do. Hate's a strong word, after all. I prefer to consider them amicable opposites.

    But that doesn't mean Howard is prepared to spend the next three or more years playing in Kobe's shadow. He (eventually) wants to be The Man again, a role he can't assume in Los Angeles until the Black Mamba retires or voluntarily cedes control of the Lakers to him.

    Following Kobe's conversation with Mike Trudell of Lakers.com, it's clear the former won't be explored for quite some time.

    Three more years of Kobe is a lot of Kobe for a guy like Dwight, who is seeking the type of prominence that comes with heading his own franchise. If he believes Kobe will continue to outrank him for more than half the life of his next contract, he could bolt for Dallas or Houston or Atlanta or elsewhere.

    Or Kobe could tell Howard to take the reins of the Lakers, facilitating a transition he's probably been dreading for almost 20 years.

    The stance he takes and his willingness to maintain it could say a lot about which uniform Howard is donning next season.

Lakers' Willingness to Deal

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    Somehow the Golden State Warriors have become a "player" for Howard.

    I say this not out of surprise of Howard's potential interest. He'd be crazy not to be intrigued by absconding to Oakland. Surrounding himself with shooters like Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and even Harrison Barnes is like a low-post dream come true for the oft-double-teamed Howard.

    What's shocking is that the Warriors have entered the conversation clad with a payroll that already exceeds $70 million next season. They have no cap space for Dwight; there is only a sign-and-trade.

    Enter the Lakers. Or not. In which case workouts at UCLA is all Howard and Curry will have together.

    If Los Angeles is unwilling to deal Howard for what Golden State is offering, or deal him at all, that narrows his field of suitors. And the early indications are the Lakers have no desire to trade him anywhere.

    Can you really blame them? Shipping Howard off to another team is one thing, but a division rival? It seems far more likely that the Lakers would consider out-of-conference packages before they start dealing with Pacific threats.

    Unless that changes, Howard will be forced to choose between the Atlanta Hawks, Houston Rockets, Lakers and Mavericks.

    Sorry, Steph.

Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik

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    Three is more than two, every time. Remember that, because Superman most certainly will.

    According to Jonathan Feigen of Ultimate Rockets, Howard reportedly asked Daryl Morey and company if Houston would have enough money to sign another max free agent. 

    Oh, Dwight.

    After parting ways with Carlos Delfino, Thomas Robinson and Aaron Brooks, the Rockets are flush with cap space. More than enough to sign Howard to a max contract, in fact. Just not enough to sign another superstar.

    That brings us to Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik, who according to Ken Berger of CBS Sports, have hit the trade block. Houston's ability to move them in favor of a) creating enough cap to land another superstar next summer or b) landing another superstar now will say a great deal about what decision Dwight ultimately makes.

    Flipping Asik and Lin for a star now seems absurd, but it's going to be equally difficult to find teams willing to just absorb the $17-plus million remaining on each of their contracts without sending anything back in return.

    Howard doesn't want be bothered with the intricacies of math and common sense, though. This is his time to make requests (demands?) and see how apt teams are to actualizing.

    Expect the Rockets to feverishly attempt to put themselves in a position to at least eventually get that third superstar. Monitoring the situation in Atlanta, where Josh Smith appears to be on his way out and the Hawks are reportedly interested in Asik is among my top suggestions.

    Convincing Howard that Chandler Parsons is the second coming of Ryan Anderson, only better, isn't out of the question either. 

    Stay tuned.

Championships...and Money

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    Howard wants to win championships, but he also wants to get paid—for as long as possible.

    Any team that signs Howard becomes an instant contender. Some would be more serious than others, but in general, a Dwight-led outfit is a relevant one.

    Teams like the Rockets, Mavericks and Hawks can offer Howard approximately four years and $88 million. That's a lot of money. The Lakers can offer him roughly $118 million over five years. That's even more money.

    Taking into consideration how opt-outs are normally structured (after the third or fourth year), sacrificing that extra year and $30 million doesn't seem like that big of a deal. For Howard, though, it is.

    Last season saw Howard battle back and shoulder issues. He still put up All-Star numbers and remains the best center in the game until proven otherwise. But that additional job security is important in case he's unable to return to form completely or isn't in a position three or four years from now where he's playing at a level to earn $20-plus million annually.

    That alone makes the Lakers appealing. It also increases the intrigue behind any potential sign-and-trade with the Warriors.

    Believe that Howard wants championships, but also understand both he and Donna Summers have worked hard for their money. And Dwight doesn't want to lose the ability to make it rain any sooner than he has to.

Promises Outside the Arena

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    Dwight Howard wants to get those pearly whites of his on television more than they already are, and teams have planned their free-agency pitches accordingly.

    Per Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles, the Rockets discussed TV opportunities in Houston during their pitch to the big man.

    According to Arash Markazi also of ESPN Los Angeles, the Lakers planned to do the same thing.

    Not to be outdone, Dallas-Fort Worth-area Raising Cane’s restaurants are prepared to offer Howard free chicken fingers for life if he signs with the Mavericks (where does Eddy Curry sign?).

    Fame, money and a delectable signing bonus? This could get interesting.

    We anxiously await what the Warriors and Hawks have planned. Anything short of offering Howard his own TV show, on which all he does is eat chicken fingers until one of his six abs goes into hibernation isn't worth bringing to the table.

2014 NBA Free Agency

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    Sort of toeing along the lines of what we just discussed, Howard's decision could be impacted by other decisions that will take place one year from now.

    The 2014 free-agency class is alive with superstar talent. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Andris Biedrins Carmelo Anthony, among others, all have the ability to hit the open market.

    Assuming that Feigen's report is correct and Dwight wants to play alongside at least two other superstars, he's going to want to latch on to a team that can be a player next summer.

    Usually, that would eliminate the Warriors, who are already a long shot, but I'm inclined to believe Howard would make an exception since Curry really isn't the only star on that roster and Golden State is home to a foray of shooters.

    Not sure if we can say the same about Houston. Parsons is awesome and everything, but is he really a future superstar? And is James Harden's beard enough on its own? If Howard answers no to both questions, the Rockets need to move Asik and Lin, then hope for the best. Like now.

    We sure as hell can't say the Mavs and Hawks have enough star power now. Provided they don't make a series of poor financial decisions in the coming months, though, they should be able to make some noise (with Howard) during 2014 free agency.

    Los Angeles is right there as well. Only Steve Nash is signed past next season. The Lakers could have room for as many as two more stars (plus Howard) if they play their cards right.

    Depending on how Howard plays his free-agency cards now, he could find himself on a team poised to chase LeBron in 2014.

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