Posted July 01, 2013

Where will Dwight Howard land in free agency? Ranking possible destinations

2013 NBA free agency, 2013 NBA offseason, Atlanta Hawks, Dallas Mavericks, Dwight Howard, Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers, Rob Mahoney
Dwight Howard is scheduled to meet with five teams this week as he explores his options in free agency.

Dwight Howard is scheduled to meet with five teams this week as he explores his options in free agency. (via @RHurstDesigns)

The Dwight Howard derby is officially underway, with one team’s meeting completed (Houston) and several other suitors (the Lakers Dallas, Atlanta, Golden State) in line. The 27-year-old center is the clear-cut prize of free agency now that Chris Paul is off the table, and teams are right to go all-out in their courtship. As odd as Howard’s 2012-13 season might have been, he’s still the league’s top center when healthy and stands to transform any franchise that lands him this summer.

Which franchise ultimately winds up with Howard could be determined by any number of factors, but for the sake of keeping a wild free-agency period focused and simple, we’ve endeavored to rank Howard’s five potential destinations (including only teams with which he’s scheduled to meet) in terms of a pure basketball fit.

1. Houston Rockets

If we look solely at basketball fit, Houston is the definitive option for Howard by way of an amenable offensive system. The key to that system (and the Rockets’ appeal by extension) is James Harden, a high-usage ball handler whose game would mesh seamlessly with Howard’s. That starts in the two-man game, where Harden would easily rank as the best pick-and-roll partner of Howard’s career.

Harden’s slippery drives have become such a potent threat that opponents attempt to thwart him at first step, compromising their defense by either drifting away from open shooters or allowing the screener an undeterred roll to the rim. Given the range and accuracy of Houston’s perimeter players (every wing or guard in the rotation last season was above average from three-point range, save Jeremy Lin), the latter was often the case last season, to the point that even the limited Omer Asik wound up as one of the more efficient pick-and-roll finishers in the league. Playing off Harden simply makes things that easy, and Howard should earn a steady dose of open dunks and free throws if he’d be willing to sign with the Rockets.

It should be noted that Howard isn’t very enthusiastic about playing a pick-and-roll-heavy style, but that doesn’t change the fact that he and Harden would destroy opponents in that dimension of the game. There’s still ample room in Houston’s nascent offense to accommodate Howard’s desire to post up while still getting him on the move, a combination that could provide the crux of a wonderfully balanced attack.

The Rockets need Howard quite a bit more than Howard needs the Rockets. Asik did a nice job last season of covering up for his teammates’ mistakes on the perimeter, but Howard would cover even more ground, alter even more shots and provide a first-rate foundation from which Houston could shape a playoff-worthy defense.

2. Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks are mostly a blank slate at the moment because they entered the offseason with only three players under contract for next season, but the few assets Atlanta does have would work rather well alongside Howard. Forward-center Al Horford, 27, would be a stellar frontcourt complement, largely by sharing the defensive burden (Horford is flexible and effective in coverage) and balancing Howard’s post work by operating from the elbow. Point guard Jeff Teague, 25, may not yet be under contract (he’s a restricted free agent), but the Hawks have the right to match any offer for the speedy, ever-improving ball handler. Sixth man Lou Williams represents a nice complementary scorer upon his return from knee surgery, and rising sophomore John Jenkins is already an effective spot-up threat who can play off Howard’s post game. Signing Howard to a max contract and re-signing Teague would eat up much of Atlanta’s cap space, but those moves would also cement a strong three-man core without any immediate risk of age-related decline.

3. Los Angeles Lakers

L.A. has more pieces in place than any other realistic Howard suitor and yet may well be the most difficult to project. Howard should be healthier than he was a season ago and in better position to exert influence on both ends of the floor, though to what degree he can lift up this weird, underachieving team remains to be seen. Kobe Bryant will grapple with rehabilitation and recovery from a torn Achilles tendon, rendering him an unknown in terms of both his availability and on-court effectiveness at least early next season. Steve Nash will likely be in better health but, at 39, he is drifting further and further from his basketball prime. Pau Gasol seemed to develop some nice chemistry with Howard at the end of last season, but his place on this team is precarious, especially considering the luxury-tax implications of a Howard deal.

All in all, they make for a strange bunch. But at worst, the Lakers are looking at one more haphazard season followed by a virtually spotless cap sheet. Nash is the only Laker under contract for 2014-15, the contracts of Bryant, Gasol and all of the team’s role players coming off the books. Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak would have his work cut out for him in potentially re-signing Bryant while adding sufficient complementary pieces to contend, but that financial freedom gives the Lakers an opportunity to build squarely around Howard and what he does best as Kobe and Nash near the end of their careers.

4. Dallas Mavericks

From a basketball standpoint, Dallas’ pitch won’t be all that different from what Los Angeles can offer. If anything, the immediate ceiling is a bit lower; the Mavs will make their case to Howard as a next-year proposition, more or less conceding the fact that they won’t be able to make other significant additions this summer. Dirk Nowitzki is owed $22.7 million in 2013-14, and when his salary is combined with a potential max deal for Howard and the Mavs’ remaining guaranteed contracts for next season (Vince Carter, Jae Crowder, Shane Larkin* and Gal Mekel, assuming that Shawn Marion is eventually traded), Dallas would likely have precious little space to make any more notable free-agent plays this offseason. That would change in a year’s time when Nowitzki could be re-signed at a discount, potentially leaving enough cap room to sign a second-tier free agent in July 2014.

In the meantime, a team with Howard and Nowitzki would be practically guaranteed a postseason spot. The two stars would play off one another beautifully, as both big men occupy different spaces on the floor and thus stretch defenses in opposite directions. When Nowitzki has the ball or participates in pick-and-rolls, Howard would act as a first-rate clean-up rebounder and a brutal dive-cut option for defenses that tilt in fear of Nowitzki’s shooting. When Howard looks to post up or streak toward the rim, Nowitzki would make for one of the league’s most potent stretch bigs, spotting up either beyond the arc or just inside it.

Howard would be the defender and rebounder Nowitzki needs in a frontcourt partner, and Nowitzki would be the floor-stretching threat who could free up room for Howard to work inside. That the Mavs are so far down on this list shouldn’t be seen as an indictment. Nowitzki’s age, the team’s iffy immediate prospects and the handful of further moves to come in 2014 make Dallas a slightly more questionable spot than others in basketball terms, but the Mavs are still a solid destination.

*Larkin is technically a cap hold at this point, as he has not officially signed his rookie deal with the Mavs.

??. Golden State Warriors

We can’t know yet how well Howard would fit with the Warriors because we don’t have an idea of what Golden State would have to give up to obtain him. Unlike the other teams on this list, the Warriors don’t have the cap room (or even the potential cap room) necessary to sign Howard outright, leaving them to make their case as a sign-and-trade possibility that would require the Lakers’ agreement. In such an exchange, one would only assume that Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes would draw L.A.’s interest, with Stephen Curry set aside as an untouchable commodity.

But that’s as far as the reporting and conjecture go. We don’t know if the Lakers would be amenable to acquiring the lavishly paid David Lee in a potential swap, if they would demand both Thompson and Barnes as payment for their compliance, or if any of Golden State’s other assets could help move the needle. There’s still too much in flux regarding a potential trade package to assume what the Warriors might look like with Howard in uniform, though a pairing with Curry alone would make this a great — if highly improbable — match.

54 comments
6marK6
6marK6

Howard to me is a classic stats player. He gets his numbers, but he doesn't make your team better. And the baggage that comes with him does not make him worth the loss of what you have to give up to get him.

barjona
barjona

I don't quite get all the hatred being thrown at Howard. Clearly not on the Van Gundy x-mas list and I'm not saying I'd like to hang out with him but the guy can play... probably a top 5 player right now if he's healthy. A GM would be crazy to not try and pick him up. 

docjay06
docjay06

Why would Dwight Howard or any other decent free agent sign with the Lakers? 

Question for you Laker fans, how many free agents, that were in their prime have shown any interest in the Lakers after #24 ran Shaq out of town? Players love Shaq and look up to him. If you can't play alongside Shaq, who can you play with? 

What player is dogged everyday for the entire season by the flagship station that carries the Laker games. If I were in Laker management, the first person I would fire is John Ireland. Not only does he suck, the only player in the league that he has anything nice to say about is #24. LA has had the best announcers in the history of sports and this clown gets a gig in a major market.  

How many players has Phil Jackson labeled "un-coachable"? As long as #24 is on the Lakers they will not attract free agents in their prime.

Houston is a much better fit than LA and I'm sure that Howard will be much happier there. Kobe can still call the Lakers his team while he dribbles out the 24 second clock and launches a brick at the last second. They will get bounced in the first round of the playoffs (if they make the playoffs) for the remainder of his career.

I am a life long Laker fan but I am realistic, they are another year older and much worse on the court. The only thing that we can hope for is a sign and trade to bring in young talent.



JoeCabot
JoeCabot

It is going to fun to watch the yelling and screaming when he signs his deal.

riley8
riley8

Trade him to a team in China for Yao Ming's cousin and a player to be named later.

jimmercik
jimmercik

I remember when the Sports Illustrated cover of 29.Oct.2012 had that pic of Mssrs Howard and Nash, along with the title "Now This Is Gonna Be FUN."  Somehow, I suspect that the pic above of 5 D. Howards could be titled similarly, and that the eventual "fun-ness"outcome will be about the same as well.

MichaelDean
MichaelDean

Dwight Howard and Royce White in the same organization? No thanks.

cgio.lopez
cgio.lopez

Be like Shaq and go to Miami ...so happy he's not in Orlando anymore. 

ParisLay
ParisLay

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http://parislay.blogspot.com/2013/07/i-may-be-wrong-but-i-doubt-it-episode.html

shamrockpapa
shamrockpapa

Harrason Barnes & Klay Thompson would be great addititons & if they NEED to throw in Lee & Bogut the Lakers can throw in Gasol & Peace to make it work...

AndrewJones
AndrewJones

How is it that Houston supposedly has a better chance at a championship than the Lakers?  Didnt they have the same record last year even with all the injuries the Lakers had?   Harden over Kobe? Lin over Nash? With all the Lakers healthy and how well they finished prior to Kobe going down, gotta believe they can win it all this year.

Scott62
Scott62

It sucks a couple of years ago they got screwed over on the chris paul deal or we would have never been talking about dwight as a laker. Dwight sucks. Lakers are idiots for hiring mike diantoni insread of phil

Scott62
Scott62

They should have picked up garnett for a year and won a championship

Scott62
Scott62

Whatta waste of money!!!! Dwight Howard is a seven foot tall team wrecker. He sucks!!!!!!

TylerAllen
TylerAllen

Warriors > Rockets > Lakers > Mavs

RobShelley
RobShelley

I like the Houston fit, except for the money they wasted on Jeremy Lin. I personally think he should tough it out in LA for a few seasons and, if he remains healthy, the Lakers should be winning at least one title during Howard's tenure. Kobe will come back as a discount and they can attract free agents better than any team in the league. Howard would continue a proud tradition in which the Lakers keep stealing the league's best centers and building dynasties behind them. I rank Howard as below Shaq, Kareem, and Wilt... but he's still enough to build a contender around.

JoeBucknam
JoeBucknam

Out of the teams listed, Houston has the LEAST amendable offense.  Number one, they are a three point shooting teams. They lead the league BY FAR.   James Harden is not a ball-feeder.  He wants HIS 20 shots a game.  Houston has not or ever will play defense.  Kevin McHale has yet to show he can even win a playoff game, let alone a championship.

Dallas has an aging superstar who WANTS to be second fiddle.  They also showed they can put a contending team together on the fly.  They won 41 games without Dirk for 26 games. They could have won 47-50 with him.   They already are working on a sign and trade for Eric Bledsoe from LA Clippers.  With Howard, they will be a contending playoff team next season. In 2014, they will also have the pieces to be a Championship contender.  Houston, even with Howard, will not be the favorites over San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Los Angeles Clippers for the West, meaning Howard won't win a Championship any quicker with them, even if McHale can adapt to him.

WilyCoyoteSuperGenius
WilyCoyoteSuperGenius

More drivel from the same pundits who crowned the Lakers West champions last season when they acquired Howard. Instead of spending his summer touring prospective suckers Dwight ought to be in the gym learning how to shoot free throws. No team that runs its offense through him will ever win anything as long as he shoots 50% from the charity stripe. Come crunch time teams will clobber him. They will beg for him to get the ball. Howard is a perfect example of a guy who never learned to play basketball, he is just an athlete.

John4
John4

How did they get all those pictures of Dwight Howard in team uniforms for 4 teams he has never played on?  I don't understand.  Also, Dwight is not a hard enough worker to be successful in important basketball games, like playoffs.  Any team that gets him will regret it.

jamsub
jamsub

Get the feeling this Howard circus will make Lebrons "Decision" look like nothing more than a poor choice in venue. Just think this drama has gone for what 2 years now?

Whatever
Whatever

If I owned an NBA team, I would tell my GM to not even contact Howard's agent. The guy is just sad -- all the talent, none of the motivation to use it. He will never, ever be a champion because he just wants to run out on the court and have fun. He's not willing to work hard, improve his game (free throws, anyone?), and become a dominant big man like he could. Teams would be better off getting a good defensive center and spending their money on a wing scorer.

Rickapolis
Rickapolis

Dwight Howard has become a bad joke. I wish he'd go play in China or Turkey, or some such place. The NBA would be a better place without him.

sbrown823
sbrown823

A championship team needs players with high character, not players who are characters.  Dwight came into the league as an 18 year old playing the religion card and how his career was going to glorify God.  Now, five known baby mommas and several more rumored.  Dwight believes in God but has kids out of wedlock all over the place?  And in the deciding game of a playoff series, with Kobe, Nash and Peace all out with injuries, Pau trying to play through an injury and Dwight runs his mouth and gets teched out of the game?  In the third quarter?I could see it if he fouled out, because that would mean he was least trying to carry the team, but running his mouth off at the refs and getting thrown out just does not show leadership.  I can't help but think back to when Dwight did his disastrous opt-in for last year with the Magic and he stated what made the difference in his mind is that when he showed up for the meeting, the Magic had all of his favorite candy there.  The Magic knew they were dealing with a child instead of a man.  The rest of the league needs to understand that as well.

6marK6
6marK6

@barjona Top 5? That is crazy talk. OK, maybe he does not suck like most scream, but not top ten.

lbwaterpoloman
lbwaterpoloman

you're not a life long laker fan.  don't make me laugh.  Top free agents?  they haven't had any cap space.  Their money was locked up winning championships with bynum and gasol.  How many free agents have TURNED DOWN the lakes since shaq left?  zero.   @docjay06 

bobdevo
bobdevo

@AndrewJones Cheeses K. Rist - go to Houston.  Harden is still getting better - Kobe is over. There is no possible championship in the Laker near future. Lakers are in disarray and will go down the toilet before they get rebuilt. Houston is ready to do something - altho Howard's ability to screw things up should not be underestimated.

john0834
john0834

@AndrewJones The Rockets and Lakers did have roughly the same record last season. But Howard was on the Lakers helping the team to that record, while a Howard-less Rockets team managed the about the same record. By adding Dwight the Rockets get significantly better and are a championship contender, while the Lakers stay exactly how they were last year (except a year older and a significant injury to Kobe)

AaronDunckel
AaronDunckel

@AndrewJones seriously?  You have to be kidding... after seeing this season, you can't really be that much of a lakers homer.  The lake show is on the decline... the Rockets are on the upswing and are only going to get better

bobdevo
bobdevo

@Scott62  Lakers will clearly have to ditch D'antoni before they'll have any shot at a title.

RobShelley
RobShelley

@JoeBucknam Dirk would be the single best teammate (potentially, Howard is crazy enough to clash with anyone), but the Mavs are a mess. I agree with the writer in that the Mavs are probably a messier destination than even the Lakers. 

kosmotheassman
kosmotheassman

@John4  haha what do you mean you dont understand? you have never herd of this ancient technology called photoshop. its 2013 for crying outloud

Mr. J
Mr. J

@sbrown823 I don't care how many baby mommas he has as long as he shuts up and play basketball. Try not to spend so much time worrying about his personal life..who knows you may have all types of problems yourself if someone handed you 100 million dollars....I never look to a young super rich sports athlete as a role model easier to look up to mom and dad or some older wiser folks..Dwight just needs to dedicate himself to winning.

barjona
barjona

@6marK6 @barjona Name me 5 players better... I'll give you LeBron and Durant for sure but after that it gets dicey, Rose probably, Melo and Paul maybe... but it's getting debatable. You say he's a stat hog but he's a 3 time defensive player of the year. And like LeBron he took a band of misfits to the finals, he just hasn't had a chance to play on a good team yet. 

John4
John4

@kosmotheassman  I'm sorry.  I was going for humor.  And the "pictures" are clearly generated.  Try not to be so literal.  Also, "heard".  Herd is a group of animals.  

Whatever
Whatever

@Mr. J @sbrown823 Howard's personal life IS a direct reflection of how he treats his professional life. He doesn't take anything seriously, he just wants to have fun and live in the moment, not work on his game or do what needs to be done to win a championship. The problem is he is physically gifted and mentally immature, if not incapable of being a pro.

John4
John4

@RafalPruszyn-ski Oh, you are ever so right.  A herd is a group of CERTAIN animals.  Fish do not constitute a herd, they make a school.  There are many names for groups of animals.  Herd is one of them.  However, "have you never herd" is wrong, no matter the circumstance.  And you didn't think my comment of Dwight Howard not having played for all those teams was not even a bit humorous?   Really?  Anyway, Paul, thank you for the clarification of herd.  You are awesome.  

RafalPruszyn-ski
RafalPruszyn-ski

@John4 @kosmotheassman 

A herd is not a group of animals, only certain animals. We do not say "a herd of fish" or a "herd of wolves." You mihht have been going fr humor but you failed.