COMMENTARY | For the past two days, NBA teams -- including All-Stars past and present, impactful partners and local businesses -- have pitched, wooed and offered Dwight Howard everything from a lifetime's supply of chicken fingers to his own TV show.
Since becoming a free agent, Howard has sat down with the Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets, Atlanta Hawks and the Golden State Warriors. As for what Howard, who will enter his 10th NBA season, is looking for in his next team, various media outlets, citing sources, have said Howard wants an opportunity to be a featured player on a championship team that will contend for years to come. And in classic nebulous Howard fashion, he wants to be "happy."
With a possible July 10 decision date looming, the question remains: where will Howard go? Based on Howard's reported criteria, here is a list of where he should go, will likely go and shouldn't go.
Where He Should Go: Dallas Mavericks
1. The Main Man: Howard will be the focal point of the team with an aging Dirk Nowitzki. A frontcourt of Nowitzki and Howard would be a potent inside-outside threat. If Howard realizes he could be more of an effective player by mimicking his game to Tyson Chandler's -- crashing the boards, defending the basket, and moving without the ball -- the one-two punch of Howard and Nowitzki, along with the right pieces, could be the cornerstone of a championship team. It was just three seasons ago when Nowitzki, Chandler and the Mavericks defeated the Miami Heat in the 2011 NBA Finals.
2. Cap Space: Having the right pieces around Howard is key. Given the current flexibility in its roster, Dallas will be able to surround Howard with shooters more easily than others with Nowitzki ($22.7 million), Shawn Marion ($9.3) and Vince Carter ($3.1) having the largest contracts. While Dallas may not be on the short list of championship contenders next season, it will have a run at landing a big name or two in the summer of 2014. The Mavericks can put together their own Big 3 with only $3.9 million on the books in the 2014-15 season (note: Nowitzki said he would take a significant pay cut from his $22.7 million due next season to bring more talent to Dallas).
3. Big Spender: If it means winning and having leadership with a carte-blanche mindset, Mark Cuban is the owner you want on your side. Billionaire and building for the future are what the Mavericks owner likely sold to Howard. Last season, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2000 couldn't have sat well with Cuban. He's ready to open his checkbook.
Where He Will Likely Go: Los Angeles Lakers
It's strange to say Los Angeles is a likely landing spot given all the talk of Howard not fitting into coach Mike D'Antoni's system and his hot-and-cold relationship with Kobe Bryant.
1. Take 2: The reality is when Steve Nash and Howard came to Los Angeles last season, it was largely expected that the team were instant championship contenders, and many had them instantly in the NBA Finals against the Heat. Who is to say that wouldn't happen next season?
The Lakers are Howard's best chance of winning a championship in the short term. If the Lakers are healthy -- and that's a big if since Nash turns 40 this season and Bryant is recovering from a torn Achilles tendon -- I can see the team finishing in the top 3 of the Western Conference alongside the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder. Having a full training camp with this roster, the Lakers will be able to figure out how to feature Howard better.
2. Championship Cache: If Howard is truly serious about winning a championship, then the Lakers need only to point to their 16 championships, nine more than the four other Howard suitors combined. Don't sleep on Los Angeles being a destination spot and other NBA players wanting to play for the purple and gold. Historically, the Lakers have consistently brought top talent to Los Angeles. Since Bryant joined the team in 1996, the Lakers have only missed the playoffs once.
Also, with the Bryant era closing, the Lakers won't waste Bryant's final playing years on just being a playoff team. And that impacts D'Antoni's future as well. Championship or bust.
3. Lights, Camera, Bling: While getting paid hasn't been something Howard has put front and center, the extra $30 million (not discounting the 10.3% state income tax in California) the Lakers can offer over any team is a dollar amount that most people would have a hard time turning down. Furthermore, Howard, similar to another big man before him, spoke of wanting to be in the entertainment industry and having worldwide exposure. Los Angeles is the only place with those perks.
Where He Shouldn't Go: Houston Rockets
There are some positives going for the Rockets - no individual state income tax in Texas and also the opportunity for Howard to build a stronger brand in the China market. Also, similar to Los Angeles' past, Houston historically anchors its team around big men (Hakeem Olajuwon, Moses Malone, Elvin Hayes, Yao Ming and Ralph Sampson). Howard, however, should think twice about going to Houston.
1. Age, Experience and Contracts: On paper, the Rockets are the most enticing team. Young and talented are what the Rockets have going for them. But they haven't proven anything yet. Harden just had his first full season as a starter and had the green light to shoot and drive. With Howard in the mix, how will those two play off one another? Versatile shooter Chandler Parsons had a breakout season last year and time will only tell if that will continue. Based on last season's numbers, Jeremy Lin is an average point guard at best, but he will be making a not-so average $8.3 million the next two seasons. Omer Asik, who will also make $8.3 million the next two seasons, would be relegated to a weak-side rebounder if Howard were to join the Rockets.
2. My Team?: The Rockets will have to slow their offense down with Howard in the lineup. Slowing the pace down and playing a halfcourt set is playing away from the Rockets' strength (they were second in the NBA in fastbreak points at 18.3 points per game). Quite frankly, small ball is where the NBA is going and now the Rockets appear to be moving away from that. Also, both Harden and Lin have a propensity to drive to the basket; Howard would only clog the middle.
As much as Howard wants to believe he can be an offense's focal point, his offensive game is limited, and he is a liability at the free throw line.
Sure the Rockets are likely saying that it's Howard's team, but I don't see that happening for long with the way Harden is improving. With the game on the line, it would be safe to say the ball is in Harden's hands.
3. Middle of the Pack: If the Rockets were to acquire Howard, they would be hard pressed to finish in the top 4 of the Western Conference, let alone get out of the first round of the playoffs. There are simply better teams with more experience in the San Antonio Spurs, Memphis Grizzlies, Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers.
Bryan Chu is a multi-award winning journalist who has covered the Los Angeles Lakers for NBA.com and worked as a sports and criminal justice reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, San Antonio Express-News and the Albany Times Union. During his career, the Los Angeles native has covered everything from Jeremy Lin (pre and post Linsanity) to Lance Armstrong. You can follow him on Twitter: BryanChuNBA.
- Sports & Recreation
- Los Angeles Lakers
- Dwight Howard
- Los Angeles
- Dirk Nowitzki
- Houston Rockets