After Dwight Howard wound up staying put at the Feb. 18 NBA trade deadline, ESPN.com's Marc Stein reported that a combination of a high asking price — "at least one frontline player and a future first-round draft pick in return" — and the Houston Rockets center's unwillingness to agree to opt into the final year of his contract scuttled any potential moves that Rockets general manager Daryl Morey had cooking, including some proposed swaps between Houston and the Milwaukee Bucks. That report gained credence Monday night from a somewhat unlikely source: Howard himself.
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During Monday's broadcast of the Rockets' visit to Milwaukee, Bucks play-by-play man Gus Johnson related a pre-game conversation he'd had with Howard during which the eight-time All-Star told him, "I wanted to come to Milwaukee during the trade deadline. I would have come, but they wanted me to sign an extension." (We'll assume that Johnson means Howard meant agreeing to stick around for the 2016-17 season, for which he's slated to make $23.3 million, rather than exercise his player option to enter unrestricted free agency this summer, where he could land a more lucrative multi-year deal, even if league executives think it unlikely he'll get another max contract, in a market where the salary cap's set to explode to an estimated $92 million thanks to the influx of revenue from the league's new $24 billion broadcast rights deal.)
It's somewhat surprising that the Bucks would be in the market for another high-priced big-name big man one summer after breaking the bank for Greg Monroe in a deal that has yet to bear fruit for a team that entered the season with hopes of building on last year's surprising playoff push, only to struggle to a 25-35 record that has Milwaukee six games out of the East's eighth seed with 22 games left. Then again, if the Bucks brass believed importing Howard could help right a defense that has fallen from the league's second best last year to 22nd among 30 NBA teams this year, you can understand general manager John Hammond kicking the tires on a potential deal, especially if it came with some cost certainty for next season in the form of a Howard opt-in rather than having to give up real assets for a short-term rental that offered them little more than the right to pay Howard more than any other prospective suitor this summer on a contract that will carry him through his mid-30s.
It's also kind of curious to hear Johnson say that Howard told him "you never know" about the prospect of re-signing long-term in Milwaukee, given that his last two moves have put him in bigger, higher-profile markets with teams that seemed more immediately poised to make noise in the playoffs and perhaps contend for titles. Then again, maybe Dwight had an inkling of the kind of outing the Rockets would see from rising Bucks stars Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker in Tuesday's Milwaukee win, and sees something a bit grander in Milwaukee's future than just a scuffling mid-market team with some potential but plenty of warts. (Or, maybe Dwight just doesn't want to close off a potential bidder for his services once he does opt out this summer.)
Maybe most curious of all, though, is that Gus Johnson kind of sort of broke news, or at least confirmed previous reports and moved the ball downfield, in mid-chatter during a trip to the free throw line. For years, we've known Gus as a commentator who brought plenty of excitement and vigor to every game he called; who'd have known he'd be a value-add on the reporting side, too?
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