Howard Open Minded Entering Free Agency
In less than 24 hours, Dwight Howard will become an unrestricted free agent and begin the process of deciding where he’ll spend the next several years of his career. Howard’s camp is calling this “the most important decision of his life” and this isn’t something that the 27-year-old All-Star is taking lightly.
Over the next several days, Howard will meet with the Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Atlanta Hawks, Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers to hear each team’s free agency pitch and weigh his options. Howard will remain in L.A. and each team will come to him to make their presentation.
The general consensus around the league is that the Rockets are currently the frontrunners to land Howard, but sources close to big man are adamant that the center has yet to narrow down his list from the five teams and insist that he’s not leaning toward one particular destination at this point in time. Howard is entering the meetings with an open mind.
Rather than worrying about playing in a large market or focusing on off-court opportunities, Howard’s goal is to find a situation where he can contend for a championship every year and continue to grow as a player.
“This is about getting him back to the Finals again,” a source close to Howard said. “He’s been on that stage and he wants to get back. He’ll go to the team that puts him in the best position to win.”
The Lakers can offer Howard an extra contract year and roughly $30 million more than other teams. However, sources close to Howard are quick to point out that most superstars opt out after their fourth year to ink another long-term contract anyway, so the contracts on the table won’t be drastically different, especially after factoring in the cost of living in Los Angeles compared to other cities.
This will be a busy week for Howard. While he still has to iron out his schedule, it’s clear the Rockets will be the first team that he meets with and the Lakers will be scheduled last. However, this isn’t a slight to Los Angeles. Lakers brass asked to be the final team to present, and Howard honored that request. The Warriors, Hawks and Mavericks are expected to give their pitches sometime on Monday or Tuesday.
Howard will meet with the Rockets shortly after the NBA’s 2013 free agency period gets underway on Sunday evening. Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler, James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Kevin McHale, Daryl Morey and Les Alexander will be representing the Rockets among others. Howard has trained with Olajuwon in the past and has recently grown close to Harden and Parsons. The Rockets will sell Howard on the team’s ability to compete for a championship as soon as next season and for years to come. The Rockets will also pitch that the financial difference between Houston and Los Angeles is largely insignificant due to the cheaper cost of living and because there’s no state income tax or millionaire tax. Houston will also attempt to sell Howard on their international appeal, specifically in Asia.
Dallas’ meeting with Howard will include Mark Cuban and Dirk Nowitzki among others. Nowitzki – like Harden and Parsons – has been recruiting Howard in recent weeks and attempting to sell him on the Mavericks. Cuban has made it clear that he’ll be in attendance for the meeting with Howard, especially after missing last year’s free agent sit down with Deron Williams because he had to film an episode of the television show Shark Tank, which Williams later mentioned as one of the primary reasons why he re-signed with the Brooklyn Nets. The Mavericks don’t have a core in place just yet, but they’ll let Howard come in and help assemble the team throughout the duration of his contract.
The Warriors will get to meet with Howard, but they’re a long shot to acquire him. They have $68,995,902 committed in guaranteed money for next season so the only way they could add Howard to their team would be through a sign-and-trade with the Lakers. However, it’s hard to imagine L.A. being open to a sign-and-trade, especially if it meant trading Howard to another team in California. Howard has a lot of respect for the Warriors’ young stars Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, but it’s unlikely that he’ll be calling them teammates anytime soon. Joe Lacob, Bob Myers and Mark Jackson will be representing the Warriors during their presentation to Howard.
The odds are against the Hawks in the Howard sweepstakes as well. Even though Atlanta is Howard’s hometown, he has never expressed much interest in suiting up for the team. The Hawks were an intriguing landing spot when fellow unrestricted free agent Chris Paul’s future with the Los Angeles Clippers seemed up in the air since Atlanta had the available cap space to offer two max deals. However, with the hiring of Doc Rivers in Los Angeles, it seems like Paul will re-sign with the Clippers and the Hawks will have to find another way to fill out their roster, which only consists of three guaranteed players (Al Horford, Lou Williams and John Jenkins).
Then, there are the Lakers. Last season didn’t go quite as planned in Los Angeles, culminating in a 45-37 record and a first-round sweep at the hand of the San Antonio Spurs. However, contrary to reports, Howard hasn’t ruled out re-signing with the Lakers. He will meet with the Buss family, Mitch Kupchak, Mike D’Antoni and Kobe Bryant to discuss his potential future with the team on Tuesday. Phil Jackson won’t be at the meeting, but he has joined the Lakers as a consultant and tweeted Howard that he expects the center to “get on board.” Jackson’s involvement does make the Lakers more attractive to Howard, according to sources close to the situation. Howard has a lot of respect for Jackson and believes that the legendary coach could help resolve some of the problems that surfaced last year, including the lack of opportunities for Howard and Pau Gasol in the paint. However, Howard wants to see Jackson in a “defined, long-term role” rather than just as a mascot who won’t be around after this week’s meeting.
Howard is looking forward to signing a long-term contract and putting this process behind him. Don’t expect Howard’s decision to drag out too long, as Howard wants some closure and understands that his future has dominated the headlines for long enough.