Nothin' but Net: The courtship of Dwight Howard

Let the courtship begin.

The calendar has turned to July, so NBA executives will begin doing whatever is humanly possible to try to attract the best available talent. Free agency is open for business.

But this free agent crop is really only about one guy, Dwight Howard.

It would've been two stars, but Chris Paul is going back to the Los Angeles Clippers. That leaves the spotlight squarely on Howard and he has no problem with that reality.

Howard certainly seems like the type to enjoy a little attention paid in his ample direction. In fact, he comes off as someone who will take satisfaction in the courtship process.

He's the beautiful southern belle who is going to keep the boys guessing.

Of course, Howard will have his suitors. Say what you will about his attitude problems, he's still a man of immense talent. During a down season, Howard still led the NBA in rebounding, was fifth in blocked shots and scored 17.1 points per game for a team where he was not the first option.

Howard will be 28 in December. He's flip-flopped on his plans for years now. He's also gotten coaches fired and never been shy about publicly criticizing a teammate.

Is Howard worth a max deal? Not my money, so who cares. All that matters is, he is going to get one.

So, who are the suitors for Howard's services?

First, the Golden State Warriors have asked for a meeting. They are an emerging team with buckets of young talent and excellent 3-point shooters. Howard, in the middle of the Warriors' lineup, would be a perfect fit.

However, the Warriors have zero money under the salary cap to get Howard. They'd have to orchestrate a sign-and-trade and in order to make up for Howard's $20-plus million a year in salary, Golden State would have to package Harrison Barnes, Klay Thompson, the Golden Gate Bridge, the recipe for Rice-A- Roni and the concept of Moneyball to do it.

Golden State is a no.

Next up is Howard's hometown Atlanta Hawks. He has never expressed any interest in going home, so that doesn't sway him to Georgia.

Atlanta had loads of cash to spend. It has a sensational young big man under contract in Al Horford. General manager Danny Ferry evened shared a plan to bring Howard and Paul together in Hot-lanta in a letter to season ticket holders, incurring a tampering fine.

What's less than a zero percent chance, because that's Atlanta's odds? Once Paul re-upped with the Clips, the Hawks have a better chance of Moe Howard manning the middle of their lineup than Dwight.

The Dallas Mavericks have long been a team on the Howard radar when this day came. They've saved their pennies for this particular rainy day and did so at the expense of a championship-level team.

After their title win in 2011, Dallas let Tyson Chandler walk, then did so with Jason Kidd the following year. The plan wasn't for Paul and Howard, it was for Deron Williams.

We all know how that went. Owner Mark Cuban couldn't be bothered to show up for the pitch. He was filming his reality show, so Williams signed with the Brooklyn Nets.

They should be in the mix on Howard with some great incentives like no state income tax in Texas. Cuban is still a fantastic owner with no expense spared for his guys.

The Mavs also afford the opportunity for Howard to be the guy. Dirk Nowitzki is going to the Hall of Fame, but he's 35 and at the end of the line. He would readily consent to letting Howard be the alpha dog.

That seems important to Howard. He didn't enjoy being the second option behind Kobe Bryant on the Los Angeles Lakers. If Dallas has to stroke Howard's ego, the team can offer him that opportunity.

But there is not much talent in Big D to make them contenders. Howard took a group of nobodies in the form of the Orlando Magic to an NBA Finals, but that won't happen again. The Mavs are a team that will have to shuffle pieces just to get under the cap, so who would Howard team up with beside Nowitzki.

Thanks for the free meal, and thanks for coming Mark, but Dallas is a pass.

That leaves us with two - the devil we know, and the one we don't.

The Howard experiment with the Los Angeles Lakers was a disaster. He didn't fit in offensively, complained that he didn't fit in offensively, hated playing with Bryant, may have hated Bryant himself, hated coach Mike D'Antoni's system and didn't seem too terribly enamored with anything to do with Los Angeles or the Lakers.

So why would any rational human think he would go back to that?

Money. Cold, hard cash.

The Lakers, as Howard's old team, can offer him an extra year and more money. It would be about $25 million more to go back to L.A. Should he even consider it with all of those negatives?


Bryant will start the season in street clothes after his Achilles injury. Howard could be the superstar on the team in Bryant's absence. The big ego would be satisfied, but what if Bryant returns with a new vigor after this injury, and plays another four seasons? Howard would hate that and be on the hook for five years total.

But, for $25 million more, could Howard endure? Hard to say. He really seemed to hate his time with the Lakers. From a strictly basketball sense, it's an aging roster, but one that does have some possibilities down the line.

If you believe what you read on the Internet (you should, we're always right), the Lakers have LeBron James in their sights if he opts out of his deal after next season. If Bryant retires and they move on from Pau Gasol, there will be $49.7 million in cap space available following the 2013-14 campaign, assuming they don't make any other moves.

That's Johnny Depp opening weekend money. That could turn into some serious superstars. Problem is, there are a lot of if's in that scenario. IF Bryant retires, IF Gasol isn't offered a new contract, IF Howard really doesn't hate Los Angeles that much. Too iffy.

That leaves us with the devil we don't know - the Houston Rockets.

It's amazing what a difference such little time makes. Before the James Harden acquisition, I wrote the Rockets had the second-worst roster in the NBA, just ahead of the Charlotte Bobcats.

They trade for Harden, the deals for Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin turn out OK, especially Asik, and Chandler Parsons continued on an upward curve. Harden was the key. We learned, outside the sixth man role he played for the Oklahoma City Thunder, Harden was a top-10 talent.

In today's NBA, that still puts the Rockets at least a superstar from contending, which, they hope, would be Howard. After cutting Carlos Delfino and Aaron Brooks and trading the nomadic Thomas Robinson, Houston is under the cap and can offer max money.

Howard met with the Rockets Sunday night as soon as teams could start to negotiate deals. According to a report, he asked about the possibility of adding a third superstar. If Golden State would've had to move everything Bay Area to get Howard, the Rockets would have a lot of tinkering to do to add a third star. Asik and Lin would certainly be on the move and a sign and trade to the Lakers for those two makes sense for L.A. (for the record, I think Asik would be better for the Lakers than Howard.)

The Rockets, with Howard in the middle, could contend immediately. Are there drawbacks to Houston? Yes, more on them later, but a Howard-led Houston team could be up there with the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs.

The biggest drawback to a potential Rockets/Howard union seems to be role identification. If Howard didn't like Bryant at the top of the pile in L.A., would he be all right with Harden ruling the Rockets? If so, would Harden be understanding of diminishing his role? Hard to say.

Still, the amount of young talent in Houston is tantalizing. The Rockets are the apparent front-runners for his services. Maybe the billboards in Los Angeles will work on Howard (don't laugh, he's the type who appreciates that sort of gesture).

If it's Tinsel Town, or Houston, or Dallas, wherever it may be, don't expect quick resolution. Howard is the belle of the ball right how.

It's exactly where he wants to be.