NBA PM: Howard Joining Friends on Hawks?
The Brooklyn Nets, Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks have been mentioned as potential suitors for Dwight Howard in recent months, but there’s a dark horse to keep an eye on as this saga continues. If Howard becomes an unrestricted free agent next offseason, the Atlanta Hawks will aggressively pursue the six-time All-Star and try to lure the superstar center back to his hometown.
After trading Joe Johnson to Brooklyn in exchange for expiring contracts, the Hawks cleared enough cap space to offer Howard a maximum contract next summer. Atlanta has just $17,225,000 committed in guaranteed contracts for the 2013-14 season and will have plenty of flexibility moving forward thanks to a series of cost-cutting moves by new general manager Danny Ferry.
The Hawks tried to acquire Howard last offseason, offering several different packages to the Magic. However, Orlando wasn’t ready to part ways with Howard and the talks didn’t go anywhere.
Howard grew up in Atlanta and many of his relatives still reside in Georgia. He developed into one of the best high school players in recent memory at Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy, where he averaged 25 points, 18 rebounds, 8 blocks and 3.5 assists and led the team to the Class A state championship during his senior season. Howard was named Georgia’s Mr. Basketball in 2004, and he still spends some time in Atlanta during the offseason and his foundation occasionally holds events in the region.
Not only do the Hawks have the cap space and hometown ties to recruit Howard, they also have two of his closest friends on their roster. Josh Smith and Anthony Morrow have known Howard for years and they could help the Hawks lure the big man next summer.
Smith, who also grew up in Atlanta, has known Howard since preschool. They joke that they’ve been balling together since they were in diapers. The two boys remained friends as they completed grade after grade and started developing into the physical specimens we see today. They formed one of the best AAU duos in the nation and talked about someday playing together in the NBA. When Smith got married two years ago, Howard was the best man in his wedding. Smith admits that he would love to reunite with Howard in Atlanta.
“Who wouldn’t want a guy like that on your team?” Smith said of Howard when HOOPSWORLD caught up with him in Las Vegas. “He’s the best big man in the league. I’d love to have him. Who wouldn’t? He’s the most dominant big in the game right now.
“We do have a lot of money coming off the books, especially after this year. I don’t know what the plans are. I guess every team that’s unloading money, the media thinks they’re targeting Dwight.”
Smith said that if Howard were to join the Hawks, it’d be “icing on the cake.”
Morrow grew up in Charlotte, but he describes Atlanta as his second home. He was always traveling to Georgia to play in AAU games and tournaments, which is how he became close friends with Howard and Smith. Morrow played four seasons at Georgia Tech and was acquired by the Hawks last month in the trade with Brooklyn.
Last summer, Howard was asked to name five players who he would like to have on his team. Howard named Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Stephen Jackson, Monta Ellis and Morrow, showing just how close he is with the shooting guard and how much he respects his game. Morrow believes the Hawks have a chance to land Howard, but says he doesn’t have any inside knowledge.
“With me and Josh having a relationship with Dwight, it’s a possibility,” Morrow said. “It’s always a possibility, but that’s something that they’ll have to take care of upstairs. Mr. Ferry is doing a great job so far. Anything is possible, you never know. It’d be great with the relationship that us three have, and (fellow Atlanta native) Lou Williams too, especially from a chemistry standpoint. That’s a good core group of guys right there to build a team around. It’d be great, but there’s no telling what will happen.”
“Nobody knows what’s going to happen with Dwight,” Morrow added. “I know I don’t.”
Howard doesn’t know what his future holds either. The waiting game continues since the Magic aren’t in any rush to trade their disgruntled franchise player. They’re still negotiating with teams, but sources close to the situation say that a deal isn’t close to completion.
Magic general manager Rob Hennigan and his staff are still holding out hope that Howard can be persuaded to stay in Orlando. New head coach Jacque Vaughn has been in contact with Howard in an attempt to build a relationship with the center. Sources close to Howard reiterated that he wants out of Orlando and will leave as a free agent next offseason if the Magic don’t trade him.
This saga has featured many unexpected twists and turns over the last year. If the soap opera continues into next summer, the Hawks will do everything in their power to woo Howard to Atlanta. With plenty of cap space and some of his best friends on their roster, they’re a dark horse in the Howard sweepstakes.
Afflalo Hopes Denver Can Take Next Step: The Denver Nuggets gave the Los Angeles Lakers a hard fought series in the first-round of the 2012 NBA playoffs, but they were sent home after losing a close Game 7. Entering this season, the Nuggets are bringing back their same core and are hoping to take the next step. The team hopes to make a deep playoff run and emerge as a contender in the Western Conference.
“That’s the idea,” Arron Afflalo said when asked if the Nuggets could make a deep playoff run. “I think that year of experience we had together is definitely going to help us. We’ll have a full season this year and a full training camp. There are no more personal situations going into this year; we’ve got our group of guys. It should be fun.”
This summer, Afflalo has been working on expanding his game. He’s training to improve “a little bit of everything,” focusing particularly on his offense.
“I’m trying to continue to push that level defensively, become a better offensive player at every facet of the offensive game and still be that leader that can push my teammates to the next level,” Afflalo said.
Afflalo is currently working with some of the top high school players at the 2012 adidas Nations. He has been playing with the team of college counselors and giving them a taste of NBA-level competition. HOOPSWORLD’s Yannis Koutroupis caught up with Afflalo to discuss his adidas Nations experience, expectations for next season and offseason plans.
The Remaining Free Agents: All of the big-name free agents have signed new deals, but there are still plenty of notable players available. As teams look to fill out their rosters, here’s a position-by-position look at the best players that are still on the market as of today:
POINT GUARDS: Derek Fisher, Jonny Flynn, Gilbert Arenas, Jannero Pargo, Baron Davis, Sundiata Gaines, Mike Bibby, Earl Boykins, Mike James, Ben Uzoh, Ish Smith, Anthony Carter, Blake Ahearn, Manny Harris, Patrick Beverley
SHOOTING GUARDS: Leandro Barbosa, Jodie Meeks, Martell Webster, Marquis Daniels, Michael Redd, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Maurice Evans, Sam Young, Terrel Harris, DeAndre Liggins, Jermaine Taylor, Xavier Silas, Bill Walker, Josh Akognon, Darington Hobson, Rashad McCants
SMALL FORWARDS: Carlos Delfino, Josh Howard, Matt Barnes, Alonzo Gee, Mickael Pietrus, Tracy McGrady, Josh Childress, Terrence Williams, Donte Green, Shawne Williams, Damion James, Bobby Simmons, Jason Kapono, Derrick Brown, Jamario Moon, Joey Graham, Damian Wilkins, Rasual Butler, Al Thornton, Adam Morrison, DaJuan Summers, James Singleton
POWER FORWARDS: Andray Blatche, Kenyon Martin, Anthony Tolliver, Ivan Johnson, Chris Andersen, Craig Smith, Lou Amundson, Shelden Williams, Troy Murphy, Dominic McGuire, D.J. White, Yi Jianlian, Brian Cardinal, Brian Scalabrine, Leon Powe, Juwan Howard, Chris Wright, Malcolm Thomas, Hilton Armstrong, Eduardo Najera, Brian Cook, Chris Johnson, Francisco Elson, Lance Thomas
CENTERS: Darko Milicic, Ben Wallace, Greg Oden, Mehmet Okur, Jermaine O’Neal, Kyrylo Fesenko, Tony Battie, Eddy Curry, Jamaal Magloire, Mickell Gladness, Mikki Moore, Dan Gadzuric, Erick Dampier, Solomon Alabi, Keith Benson