The Rockets aren't currently in line to have the cap space necessary to offer Dwight Howard a maximum-salary contract this summer, but the team is confident it can swing trades to clear room for his max deal if he's willing to sign with Houston this summer, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.com. Sources tell Stein an "obvious option" would be to trade Thomas Robinson for a future draft pick.
Salary Cap FAQ author Larry Coon this week broke down the Rockets' ability to make a run at Howard, pegging their available space for this summer at between $16.7MM to $18.2MM, depending on how high the league sets the salary cap in July. Opening up that much room without making a trade would require the team to decline its option on Francisco Garcia and waive seven others whose contracts aren't fully guaranteed for next season, including starting small forward Chandler Parsons, whose deal is partially guaranteed for $600K.
Dwight Howard's maximum first-year salary would check in at $20,513,178, as Luke Adams of Hoops Rumors detailed. Howard's max is larger than any other free agent this summer because the collective bargaining agreement ensures a player can always sign for 105% of his previous salary, and Howard's $19,536,360 salary this season is the largest of anyone hitting the open market.
In order to give Howard the max, the Rockets would have to make a trade. Giving up on Robinson, the 2012 No. 5 overall pick whom the team acquired at the trade deadline from the Kings, and Parsons, perhaps the NBA's best bargain, would be difficult to stomach, but I don't think the Rockets would hesitate to do so if they knew they were getting Howard.
Stein also writes that, even as the play of James Harden is making Houston an increasingly attractive destination, the Mavericks have long been considered the greater threat to sign Howard. Coon looked at the Mavs' ability to land D12 as well, noting that they're set to have less cap space than the Rockets this summer. That means Dallas, too, would have to swing a trade to fit a max contract for Howard under the cap. Both the Mavs and Rockets could also try to work out a sign-and-trade with the Lakers for Howard, Coon adds, noting that while the CBA bars taxpaying teams like the Lakers from receiving a player via sign-and-trade, it doesn't preclude them from sending players out in such a deal.