The biggest question of this year’s NBA free agency was cleared up Friday when Dwight Howard agreed to sign with the Houston Rockets. Dwight Howard was troubled this season by shoulder and back injuries but still managed to lead the league in rebounding. I will go through each scenario to describe the pros and cons of each team and why I believe Dwight Howard made the right choice.
Los Angeles Lakers:
Let’s start with his most recent team. The Lakers are one of the NBA’s two greatest franchises. If Howard stayed he would join a long list of great centers to play for the franchise. The team was set to resign him and struggle through a year of mediocrity before trying to attract potential free agents LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony to the team next summer. The only player on the books for the 2014-15 season is Steve Nash, and he very well could retire leaving the team with over 70 million to make a team from scratch. This vision was the main selling point for the team. LA also boasts one of the greatest media markets in the nation. With said market a super star like Howard could serve to gain many more endorsements than anywhere else aside from New York City. At the end of the day the Lakers could do nothing but promise an opportunity based on ideals. The Lakers 16 championships aren’t guaranteed to bring them a 17th, so I understand why Howard left for a more solid situation.
Dallas essentially offered the exact same promise as the Lakers with a less rich history to back it up. Dallas was a promising scenario with Dirk Nowitzki on board to take a pay cut for the sake of the team. Howard and Nowitzki would have been a dynamic front court combination, but Nowitzki is 35 years old. There is no telling how much he has left in the tank. This team offered Howard another promise of “someday maybe we will be great if this or that happens”. Howard would of been better off staying in LA if he was looking to bet on next year’s free agents.
There was really no chance for the Hawks after Chris Paul decided to remain with the Los Angeles Clippers. The Hawks were the only team that could finally team up the Paul and Howard without the use of a sign and trade. Chris Paul was quite adamant about not wanting to leave the LA market so it was doomed from that point. Howard would have returned to his hometown and gained a great front court partner in Al Horford. The Hawks have never been taken seriously a contender in the league and this was not Howard’s first opportunity to return to his hometown. He has had a few beginning in 2011 when he made his trade demand to the Magic. This team would have been a few years away from contending even with Howard so I’ll attribute the weakness of this free agent class to him not signing with the Hawks.
Golden State Warriors:
The Warriors were ruled out early because they would need a sign and trade to get Howard, but they maneuvered their way into gaining some cap relief. With their cap relief it was assumed that they would sign Howard outright, but they made a surprise move and signed free agent Andre Iguodala to the team. The dynamic defender would cement a Warrior’s perimeter defense that would compliment Howard’s post presence excellently. With the signing of Iguodala, a sign and trade would become necessary to sign Howard. The Lakers admitted to be willing to make a trade with the Warriors if Howard chose their team. Basketball wise this would of been a great team for Dwight. He would be surrounded by an excellent defense, a strong rebounding team, great shooting, and guaranteed touches in the paint. There was actually no downside to signing with Golden State, if the team did a sign and trade then Howard would of still received his 5 year 118 million dollar contract. If Golden State played it’s hand earlier in the summer to free up cap space then they very well may have had Howard manning the paint for them for the rest of his prime.
The Rockets spent the entire season being the favorite to land Howard after almost completing a trade for him last summer. The team is one of the youngest and highest scoring in the league. James Harden has emerged as one of the top ten players in the league. Harden averaged 25.6 points per game this season to finish 5th in the league in scoring. Most of Harden’s tremendous scoring output this year was out of necessity though. Harden is as much distributor as he is scorer, so with Howard signing the two will be a dynamic duo for some time in this league. The rest of the Rockets roster includes high efficiency three point shooters and a quality center who can either play with Howard or back him up. That is the exact same formula that the Orlando Magic used that lead them to the 2009 NBA Finals. The difference of course is that Howard has never played with another top level talent in this league. He now has the opportunity to play with a rising star who will only be 24 years old when the season starts. Howard contemplated his decision further on the plane ride back to LA. His biggest regret was leaving 30 million on the table, but if Howard moves to Texas then he will only be losing 9.6 million dollars in net income. Texas does not have property tax and California has the highest so he’s really not losing much there. Howard stated that his priority was to win now and this was the best situation to do so out of the top 2 teams he had in mind.
At the end of the day, Dwight Howard chose to continue building the tradition of Houston Rockets basketball instead of resting upon the legacy of the Lakers.
Erick S. Taylor Jr., Guest Columnist
Photo Credit: Ryan Hurst