The Magic, Bucks, Trail Blazers and Hornets are the favorites for Dwight Howard in free agency this summer, as Calvin Watkins of ESPN.com writes within a broader piece on the Rockets, Howard’s current team. Houston has long expected Howard to turn down his $23.282MM player option for next season in search of a max deal that would pay him about $30MM next season, and Howard and fellow Rockets star James Harden have a chemistry that one team source described to Watkins as “cordially bad.”
Howard would prefer to re-sign with the Rockets but would entertain the idea of returning to the Magic, his first NBA team, as Bleacher Report’s Ric Bucher heard. Howard told Bucks play-by-play announcer Gus Johnson he wanted the Rockets to trade him to Milwaukee at the February deadline this year, Johnson said. The Hornets and Rockets had exploratory trade talks about Howard before the deadline, and Howard played under Charlotte head coach Steve Clifford when he was an assistant. This is the first reported link between Howard and Portland this year.
The 30-year-old former All-Star is known for indecisiveness regarding contract matters in the past, so it would be no shock if this list of front-runners undergoes drastic changes between now and July, when he can sign a contract with a new team. Howard was a client of agent Dan Fegan during his split with the Magic and one-year Lakers tenure, but earlier this year he dropped Fegan in favor of Perry Rogers, Shaquille O’Neal’s rep.
Chandler Parsons publicly campaigned Tuesday for Howard to join him on the Mavericks, but the Mavericks don’t want to give Howard a deal approaching the max, and Dirk Nowitzki, who’s spoken openly about potential free agents in the past, declined comment when asked about the possibility of Howard in Dallas, according to Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com.
The Magic are in line to have no shortage of cap room this summer, with enough flexibility to sign two max free agents. Portland doesn’t have quite that much but still has more than enough flexibility to afford a max contract for Howard, even with Damian Lillard‘s max extension kicking in. The Bucks would likely have to perform some cap gymnastics to accommodate Howard, since they already have close to $62MM in guaranteed salary committed against a projected $92MM cap. Charlotte only has about $46MM on the books, but that doesn’t include any money for soon-to-be free agents Al Jefferson, whom Howard would likely replace if he were to sign with the Hornets, or Nicolas Batum.
Regardless, it appears Howard would face a difficult atmosphere if he were to return to Houston next season. One source close to the Rockets told Watkins that Howard lost the respect of his teammates, though a Rockets player who spoke with Watkins offered a dissenting view. Harden and Howard have spoken about their on-court issues and Harden paid for Howard’s birthday dinner earlier this season, but the high-scoring guard feels Howard is too distracted and doesn’t demand the ball enough, according to Watkins. Howard doesn’t feel Harden respects him and solicits the opinions of former teammates about what he can do to fix that, as Watkins details.
What’s your best guess as to where Howard ends up? Leave a comment to share your idea.