NBA PM: Surprise Destination For Howard, Paul?
VIDEO OF THE DAY – Khalif Wyatt
HOOPSWORLD catches up with former Temple star Khalif Wyatt, who's training for the 2013 NBA Draft.Watch More Video Here
Surprise Destination for Dwight Howard, Chris Paul?
Before we get too deep into the latest appetizer on what promises to be a vast buffet of unnamed sources claiming to have super-secret knowledge of the intentions of Chris Paul and Dwight Howard, let’s be clear that we are still basically three weeks away from the start of NBA free agency and no decisions are close to being made. Having said that, the latest rumor, offered up by ESPN’s Chris Broussard, is that the top two free agents of the summer would like to team up, and have been texting back and forth to try and figure out where they could best do that.
Up until now, the predominant rumor regarding Howard’s future has been that he would like to be in Houston. The Rockets offer a roster that appears to be one All-Star center away from competing for a championship, and, when healthy, Howard fits the bill. The Rockets are one minor move away from having the cap space required to sign Howard to a max contract, which would start at $20.51 million for next season.
Meanwhile, Paul has given every indication that he wants to stay in Los Angeles with the Clippers long-term, but if the latest rumor is true, perhaps he is re-thinking that strategy. Despite being a part of the best Clippers team ever in terms of single-season wins, Paul still found himself out of the playoffs after the first round, and while the Clippers are working to upgrade the team’s coaching staff and roster, it’s easy to understand why the grass in other NBA venues might start to look greener, especially if Howard was a part of the equation.
So let’s start with Houston. The Rockets can clear space to sign Howard as a free agent, but Paul is another story. Paul is set to make $18.69 next season as the first year on his own max deal, meaning Houston is an extremely unlikely landing place for him. The reality is that the Rockets would already be at roughly $53 million if they only had Howard, Harden and Paul on the roster, and that’s assuming they could unload basically everyone else. That leaves nine roster spots to fill, with minimum cap holds for each totaling $4.275 million. The math simply doesn’t work.
If not Houston, then, where should free agency’s dynamic duo look next? Right up the freeway in Dallas would be a good starting point, as the Mavericks have been working for maximum cap flexibility this summer and are a move or two away from having space to sign two max players. As things stand today, Dallas has just $27.9 million in guaranteed contracts on the books, though to actually have that space they would have to renounce their rights to all of their free agents and thus get rid of the corresponding cap holds. Shawn Marion has an Early Termination Option (ETO) on his $9.3 million for next season, but is unlikely to use that option. The Mavs have been working to move Marion for draft picks, and with such a low asking price it seems likely that they could find a taker and find even more cap space. With their cap in the $19 million range, Dallas could sign Howard and Paul outright, though that would put them right at the expected salary cap for 2013-14. They would then have to add players using their $2.62 room exception and the slight breathing room leading up to the $71.5 million luxury tax threshold.
Once we leave Texas, where there is no state income tax, it becomes more expensive for Paul and Howard to leave their current teams, who can pay them more money up front and add an additional year to the term of a new contract. Still, the Atlanta Hawks offer a very similar situation to that of the Mavericks. They have an established star in place with Al Horford, and very little else on the roster, to speak of. Atlanta has $18.58 million in salary on the books, again assuming they renounce their rights to all free agents and thereby unload their cap holds. The Hawks would start Howard at center and Horford at power forward, giving the Hawks one of the best front line duos in basketball. Paul would likely share the backcourt with Lou Williams, leaving only the small forward position up in the air. Atlanta has more exceptions to help fill out their roster, including their Mid-Level Exception; Bi-Annual Exception; TPE $1.375 million (Willie Green, expiring 7/30/13); TPE $1.1 million (Anthony Morrow, expiring 2/21/14) — Exception will be renounced if the Hawks go under the cap. They could also add players on smaller deals as they approach the luxury tax threshold.
If Paul and Howard really are determined to play together, the Mavericks and Hawks offer the easiest paths to such a union, with Houston possibly finding a way to make it work, as well. None of the other teams on Howard’s radar – the Brooklyn Nets and the L.A. Lakers – have the ability to suit up both without major roster-changing trades that seem unlikely. Again, that’s assuming that Paul really does want to leave the Clippers in the first place. It’s too early to make such an assumption, as the Clippers have yet to put their long-term plan on the table. As much as Paul has talked up Los Angeles and the Clippers, he is clearly their player to lose.
Expect many, many more rumors like this one to surface before Paul and Howard ink their next contracts.
The Secret to Miami’s Success
It’s no secret that the Miami HEAT are the defending NBA champs because they assembled three All-Stars as their core unit. The trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh has led the HEAT to the NBA Finals three years in a row in their three seasons together. It’s not enough to have three All-Stars, however, you also have to have a strong supporting cast of players who don’t mind practicing just as hard but for little or no recognition. As much as the Big Three have been responsible for Miami’s rise, their selfless supporting cast has been just as important.
No one personifies the attitude of willing sacrifice more than Rashard Lewis, who became one of the NBA’s all-time best three-point shooters with the Seattle SuperSonics, was a critical part of the Orlando Magic’s Finals run in 2009, and was then bounced to two different lottery teams before being bought out. After struggling through knee injuries with the Washington Wizards, Lewis is now fully healthy and could easily start for another NBA team. Instead, he’s riding the bench in Miami and perfectly happy to do it.
“I already knew what I was getting myself into before I even signed a contract with this team at the beginning of the year,” Lewis told HOOPSWORLD. “Like you said, it’s a very deep team with a lot of veterans. It’s pretty much the championship team that they had last year with the additions of me and Ray [Allen] and then picking up Birdman [Chris Andersen] later on in the season, but it’s not frustrating for me at all because I know what I signed up for and all of that. I’m here to win ball games and win a championship. At the end of the day, everybody on this team has made sacrifices, from LeBron to D-Wade to Chris Bosh to myself to Mike Miller. Overall, I think everybody has taken a sacrifice, especially with D-Wade letting LeBron be the man taking the bulk of the shots, and he’s been the number two guy as well as him being the number three guy, just somewhere along the line it seems like we all have to sacrifice something in order to make a complete team, at the end of the day, to win ball games and try to win a championship.”
Of course, riding the bench carries its own challenges. Lewis has played sparingly, seeing mostly garbage time minutes in the playoffs after averaging just 14.4 minutes per game in 55 appearances this season. He’s had to rely primarily on practice and off-day workouts to stay sharp.
“Just continue to get a lot of shots up every day, before practice, after practice. Extra conditioning,” Lewis explained. “We do play a lot of three-on-three during the season as well as when the playoffs came, for the guys that don’t know if we’re going to play or not. Just play at home, play full court, three-on-three, just do some more conditioning than anything. We play half court three-on-three on the road, playing a lot of road games, but sometimes as a veteran team it seems like we know what to do to keep ourselves in shape and keep our bodies right in case our name is called. We don’t have to have Coach sit there and monitor us and tell us what to do every day because he has other things that he has to worry about, and that’s playing guys and winning ball games and scouting reports, not worrying about guys trying to stay in shape and keep their conditioning up. That’s why I like this team because it’s such a veteran team that guys know what to do to prepare and keep themselves and their bodies right.”
LeBron has taken considerable heat for his perceived lack of focus in the first three games of the NBA Finals. Inside the Miami locker room, however, LeBron’s teammates remain confident that he can and will take over when the time comes, much as he did in last night’s Game 4.
“He’s a smart player with a high IQ for the game,” Lewis said. “He doesn’t make that pass to try to not let the pressure be on him or to avoid taking that last shot. If he feels it’s the right play, he’s going to make that pass to the wide open man, or if he has that lane, he’s going to take a layup or he’s going to take that shot. He’s not a selfish person at all; he thinks about his teammates on the court as well as off the court. I think the way he plays the game is unselfish but he can also can take over the game whenever he feels like it’s needed.”
Though Lewis has been in the NBA for 15 seasons, he still feels like he can learn something from his teammates, including relative youngster James.
“Yeah, you can learn something from him,” Lewis said. “I think you can always learn something new every day from somebody. You can never stop getting better. Like when I was younger, I learned a lot from Ray when I played with him in Seattle. Then playing with guys like D-Wade, Chris Bosh, and LeBron, you just learn how they really study the game. During the shootaround, LeBron’s going over the scouting report. He’s going over the opponent’s team way before Coach goes over it. He knows everybody’s position. So, it really shows you that being athletic, big, strong, is not everything about basketball. It’s knowing where to be on the court, and what to do, and what your opponent does, and how you handle it. It seems like he’s almost like a player coach out there.”
Lewis has the ability to opt out of his contract with the HEAT this summer, but after a year of what could turn out to be championship ball with Miami, blowing town is the last thing on his mind.
“No, I’m with the Miami HEAT,” Lewis said. “I don’t plan on opting out at all. I plan on trying to make another run at it again next year. I played a lot of minutes over my career, I played for 14 years. Of course, I would love to play, but at the same time, it’s about winning. Been to the Finals once, didn’t get the job done, and hopefully this year or next year we can get the job done and then be with the Miami HEAT. I’ve played in All-Star games, I’ve made money over my career, I’ve been in three-point contests, I’ve played a bulk of minutes and done a lot of different things, and I feel like before I retire to complete my career, I got to top it off with a championship.”
Whether or not Lewis winds up playing a significant role on the court over the last few games of the 2013 NBA Finals, his sacrifice, and those of his teammates, is a huge part of why the HEAT have been among the best teams in the NBA this season, and why they are two wins away from capturing their second championship in as many years. The stars do a lot of the heavy lifting, but without a great supporting cast, even the brightest stars come up short in the end.
Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @TheRocketGuy, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @alexraskinNYC, @SusanBible, @DPageNBA, @stevesraptors, @TommyBeer and @YannisHW.