COMMENTARY | Dwight Howard's free agency is set to begin July 1, but several teams are already making plans to give him everything they've got. They're setting up to make the best sales pitches they can, and some are walking an ethical fine-line.
The Los Angeles Lakers big man recently said via Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register that he will make his looming decision based on basketball alone, and that no team can say anything to make him change his mind. It'll be his choice and his alone.
But that won't keep teams from trying to sell him anyway. They've already begun to shuffle their pieces around and make moves to accommodate Howard in hopes that they'll have the most attractive package to offer him when it becomes their turn to make an offer.
With that in mind, here's what the top teams in the running have done since their seasons ended in order to persuade Howard to sign:
The Rockets already have a strong case as it is with a solid young nucleus that includes superstar guard James Harden and a standout youngster in Chandler Parsons. They are well-coached and have plenty of resources to surround Howard with players that complement his game.
On Friday (June 21), ESPN's Marc Stein reported that the Rockets may shed the contract of forward Thomas Robinson in order to free up cap space that would allow them to offer Howard a max deal. They could accomplish this by drafting one of many players they have their eyes on overseas and avoid the cap hit for the upcoming season.
Parsons said that he talks with Howard often, and while that smells an awful lot like tampering at the surface level, players are well within their rights to recruit others. Howard and Parsons have a history as friends from their days in Central Florida, where Parsons grew up and Howard spent the first eight years of his career with the Orlando Magic.
Dallas has every intent to trade the No. 13 overall pick in the upcoming draft in order to create the cap room necessary to have a shot. A side-by-side comparison of the Texas rivals' cases leads one to believe that Houston is leaps and bounds more well-positioned than Dallas to convince Howard to come to the Lone Star State.
For one, two of Dallas' best players, Vince Carter and Dirk Nowitzki, are entering the twilight of their careers. They're closer to hanging it up than they are being serious components of a title team. They have some solid young pieces in Brandan Wright and Darren Collison, but they need more young talent to have as strong a case as the Rockets.
However, the Mavs are still eyeing all options to move that pick and will give Howard their best offer.
The Hawks' effort to to excite fans about the possibility of landing Howard and / or Chris Paul will likely get them in trouble. The team sent out a letter to season ticket holders, which the Atlanta Journal-Consitution published. In it, they specifically mention both players by name, which is a direct violation of the NBA's tampering rules.
Clearly, they feel they have a shot, and they laid out why. Cap space, four draft picks and the ability to be a serious player in the free agent market are their selling points. The Hawks are serious, but their best effort likely won't be enough.
This one is a long shot, to be sure, but superstars of today's NBA want to play together, and the Clippers want to make it happen. They're a dark horse in the Dwight Howard sweepstakes because they would have to acquire him via an unlikely sign-and-trade scenario in order for he and Paul to join forces. Still, they have the best chance out of any team to make it happen since Paul can earn over $20 million more by staying with the Clips.
The Clippers have been reluctant to trade their main attraction, Blake Griffin, for a number of reasons, including the fact that they're holding out hope of a potential deal with the Lakers. According to Yahoo! Sports NBA Insider Adrian Wojnarowski, the Purple-and-Gold have rejected all sign-and-trades with the hope that Howard will remain on their side of the hall.
If the Lakers end up agreeing to the deal with their cross-town rivals, it will have to include Griffin. The Clips' reluctance to trade the All-Star leaves the door open for a Lakers-Clippers mega-deal.
Again, it's far-fetched and speculative, but that's what NBA summers are for.
Michael C. Jones covers the Los Angeles Lakers and the NBA as a Southern California-based sports journalist and editor. He contributes to SB Nation in addition to Yahoo! Sports and is the Managing Editor and Founder of Sports Out West.
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