NBA PM: Top Five Destinations for Dwight Howard
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Top Five Destinations for Dwight Howard
Dwight Howard’s impending free agency has been discussed for over two years. He was expected to become an unrestricted free agent last offseason, but he decided to waive his early termination option and finish the 2011-12 season with the Orlando Magic.
Howard’s future has been up in the air for quite some time, but he’ll finally sign a long-term contract this offseason if all goes as planned. He’s coming off of a “nightmare” season with the Los Angeles Lakers, and he’ll definitely weigh all of his option this summer. Howard’s free agency has already generated plenty of headlines and this offseason will be no different.
Over the last two years, Howard has endured a lot of criticism – most of it warranted – and now he just wants to find a situation that makes him happy. He wants to enjoy playing basketball again. The team that shows Howard how they can make him happy and compete will likely land the superstar center.
Here are the five teams that are expected to be in the mix to sign Howard:
L.A. Lakers – The Lakers are coming off of a miserable season in which they failed to win a playoff game despite assembling a star-studded lineup that featured four potential Hall of Famers in Howard, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol. Their 2012-13 season featured plenty of losses and drama, which is why Howard leaving for greener pastures is a legitimate possibility. With that said, if Howard signs elsewhere, he’ll be leaving $30 million and an extra year on the table because the Lakers have his Bird rights. However, since most superstar players exercise their early termination option, the fifth year that the Lakers can offer is unlikely to impact Howard’s decision. Howard’s camp also understands that the cost of living in Los Angeles is considerably higher than in other cities and the taxes are brutal so the difference in salary throughout the duration of the contract isn’t as significant as it seems. The Lakers don’t have much flexibility entering next season, so Howard would be re-signing to play with what will likely be the same core as last year (unless L.A. can trade Gasol) and then hoping that the front office can sign a second star in the summer of 2014, which isn’t guaranteed. The perks of living in L.A. will certainly be part of the Lakers’ pitch, but Howard appeared in more movies, commercials and television shows when he was in Orlando than in L.A. (mainly because he was more likeable – his Q score, which measures a celebrity’s marketability and appeal, took a significant hit after the “Dwightmare”). There is some familiarity with the Lakers since he spent the last season with them, and many in the organization believe that the team can be successful as currently constructed if everyone is healthy. However, that’s a big if considering Bryant is coming off of an Achilles tear and Nash, who was already breaking down last season, will be a year older. Re-signing with the Lakers is certainly an option, but Howard is definitely going shopping this summer to see if that’s truly the best situation for him.
Brooklyn Nets – Last summer, the Nets were atop Howard’s list of preferred destinations. He made it clear that he wanted to go to Brooklyn throughout the process. Once the Nets were ruled out, only then did Howard come to terms on a trade to L.A. This offseason, the Nets will once again try to acquire Howard, and they’re still the big man’s dream destination. The Nets’ interest in Howard is well-documented and unchanged, according to sources close to the situation. This time around, it will be much harder for Brooklyn to land Howard, but they’ll give it their best effort. In order to acquire Howard, the Lakers will have to agree with a sign-and-trade. Even if the Lakers are interested in such a trade, the biggest hurdle is that the Nets must be under the apron amount after the transaction is completed (and then stay under it). That’s what happens when a team spends a ton of money and has $84,445,148 guaranteed to players next season. This obstacle means the Nets would have to dump a salary or two in order to land Howard, which means finding another team to facilitate the trade. That was the holdup last summer when the Nets were negotiating with the Magic, and it could be an issue again. Kris Humphries is an ending $12,000,000 contract this time around so it may be easier to find a taker, and Brook Lopez is coming off of an All-Star season without a major injury so the Lakers could have some interest in a sign-and-trade, especially since Lopez is younger and cheaper than Howard. Brooklyn will pursue Howard so they must be mentioned as a potential landing spot. However, their cap situation and the hurdles they must jump to land Howard make them a long shot at this point.
Houston Rockets – The Rockets may be the most realistic landing spot for Howard if he decides to leave the Lakers. Unlike Brooklyn, there aren’t any significant hurdles for Houston to acquire Howard. They have the necessary cap space to sign him and they have an intriguing pitch. James Harden is one of the best up-and-coming players in the league and Howard respects his game. Kevin McHale was a Hall of Fame big man and has turned into a solid coach who could help Howard develop his offensive game. Hakeem Olajuwon has been training Howard in recent offseasons and has been in the center’s ear. In the past, Howard wasn’t interested in the Rockets, but that was before they acquired Harden and emerged as one of the best young teams in the league. Also, living in Houston will be considerably cheaper than living in Los Angeles because they have no state income tax. The Rockets have been pursuing Howard since the moment he demanded a trade – they were ready to offer almost any combination of young players and draft picks to the Orlando Magic – and they’ll go after him once again this summer. The Rockets are certainly in the mix for Howard.
Atlanta Hawks – Much has been made about Atlanta being Howard’s hometown. However, don’t expect that to be a major draw for Howard. Most fans think athletes would love to play in their hometown, but what they don’t realize is that returning home has plenty of negatives as well such as people popping back into your life and distractions left and right. The hometown connection isn’t the reason Atlanta is on this list. They’re included because they only have $18,583,800 guaranteed next season to three players: Al Horford, Lou Williams and John Jenkins. That means they’re currently the only team that can offer two max contracts. The Hawks’ dream scenario is to sign both Howard and Chris Paul, and building their team around that superstar duo. They would also have Horford under contract, barring a trade, which means they would likely be instant contenders in the Eastern Conference. However, even if Paul re-signs with the Los Angeles Clippers, Atlanta could sign Howard and allow him to pick a second free agent to play with and his next head coach (assuming the Hawks don’t offer Larry Drew a new contract). That could interest Howard, who has always wanted input into his team’s moves throughout his career. The Hawks’ presentation will be very attractive and if the right pieces fall into place, they could offer Howard the best chance to win a title, which is very important to him at this point in his career.
Dallas Mavericks – The Mavericks have been preparing for Howard’s free agency for quite some time. Dallas planned to pursue Howard last offseason, but his decision to opt-in to the final year of his contract made the summer of 2012 Deron Williams or bust for the Mavericks. Williams re-signed with Brooklyn, so Dallas is still trying to sign a big-name free agent to justify the front office’s decision to let key players like Tyson Chandler and J.J. Barea walk after the team’s championship season. This summer, the Mavs will pursue Howard and Chris Paul with the hope of landing one of the superstars. Their pitch will be that they have one of the best owners in sports in Mark Cuban, they are in large market, they are in Texas where there’s no state income tax and they have Dirk Nowitzki on the roster. This will be an important offseason for the Mavericks. They need to land one of the big-name players. If they swing and miss, as they did with Williams, breaking up the title team will be viewed as a huge mistake.
What’s Next For Al Harrington?
There was a time not so long ago that playing basketball at a high level again was so far away for Orlando Magic forward Al Harrington that many in the NBA thought he was going to retire due to medical complications from a knee procedure. Not only did Harrington beat the odds and make his return this past season, he has now stopped wearing the bulky knee brace that limited him this season and he’s preparing for next season with a newfound passion and intensity.
Harrington, who has been a regular at Impact Basketball in Las Vegas, is getting ready for a summer of uncertainty, mainly because the Magic are headed in a totally different direction than the veteran Harrington, who wants nothing more than to get back into the playoffs and into a winning situation.
Harrington is expected to work out for other teams in early June with the permission of Orlando, who will either try to trade Harrington around the draft or likely buyout his non-guaranteed contract in July.
Harrington has two years left on his deal ($7,148,600 in 2013-14 and $7,609,800 in 2014-15), with only half of each year’s salary being guaranteed. The hope for both parties involved is that Harrington can be traded, rather than bought out. A buyout for Harrington would cost him some $7,000,000 in contract money, while a buyout for Orlando would have half of Harrington’s deal hitting the salary cap this year and next year.
The ideal scenario is that Orlando takes on an unfavorable ending contract in exchange for Harrington, who believes he can still contribute to a contender. If things go south for the team acquiring Harrington, they’d have the option of buying him out next summer, while dumping an unwanted deal this summer.
Selling Harrington in a trade will be no easy task, but it seems that Orlando is at least open to letting interested teams get a look at Harrington and he’s been working hard on his body since the season ended for the Magic.
Orlando can trade Harrington at any time, but have some time to decide on Harrington’s buyout.
The Magic ended the season with the NBA’s worst record and have a 25 percent chance of landing the top overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. The 2013 NBA Draft Lottery will be held on May 21.