X

Dwight Howard Opts Out of Rockets Contract: Latest Details, Comments, Reaction

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistJune 21, 2016

Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard (12) is shown in the first half of an NBA basketball game  against the Atlanta Hawks  Saturday, March 19, 2016, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
John Bazemore/Associated Press

After three up-and-down seasons with the Houston Rockets, center Dwight Howard opted out of his contract Tuesday, making him an unrestricted free agent, according to The Vertical's Shams Charania.     

Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle confirmed the news and added Howard has "not ruled out" a return to the Rockets. 

According to Spotrac, the 30-year-old big man left a salary of over $23 million on the table for 2016-17 in favor of testing the free-agent market.

Howard signed with the Rockets in 2013 and enjoyed a strong debut season with them, averaging 18.3 points and 12.2 rebounds per game, but the past two campaigns have been a struggle. He missed half of the 2014-15 season due to a balky right knee and experienced his worst offensive output since his rookie year last season with 13.7 points per contest.

Above all else, there were constant reports regarding turmoil in the Rockets' locker room, particularly between Howard and superstar guard James Harden. A team source described the chemistry between Howard and Harden as "cordially bad," per ESPN.com's Calvin Watkins.

Despite that, Harden suggested after the Rockets' first-round playoff exit against the Golden State Warriors that he wanted Howard back in the fold, according to Feigen: "Ultimately, he makes the decision. But obviously, we love Big Fella here. He has to go back with his family and figure it out."

Howard's opting in seemed unlikely considering how poorly the 2015-16 season went for him and the Rockets as a whole. As Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders pointed out, the organization didn't roll out the red carpet for him to return based on its choice of a new head coach: 

Steve Kyler @stevekylerNBA

Just in case Dwight Howard was thinking about opting-in (he's not) Rockets interview Mike D'Antoni 🤔

Howard and Mike D'Antoni didn't mesh whatsoever during the eight-time All-Star's one-year stint with the Los Angeles Lakers, which was presumably a deciding factor in his departure from L.A., per ESPN.com's Dave McMenamin.

Howard now appears to be on track to join his fourth team in six years. He has struggled to regain the form he showed during his eight-year stint with the Orlando Magic, and it is fair to say he is no longer viewed as elite after missing out on the All-Star Game in consecutive seasons.

Howard can still be a productive player, however, as evidenced by his 11.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game this past season to go with his career-best shooting percentage of 62 percent.

The biggest issue with Howard may be intangible, as he has struggled to mesh with alpha dogs such as Kobe Bryant and Harden since leaving a Magic team on which he was the clear No. 1 option.

He was never going to ascend to that level in Houston with Harden on the roster. While he figures to garner plenty of interest on the open market, he may be hard-pressed to find a team willing to make him its face of the franchise.

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.

🚨 SPORTS NEWS ➡️ YOUR INBOX

The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.