After what has seemed like forever and a half, Dwight Howard will finally hit the free agent market and Houston seems to be the favorite landing spot for the superstar. This is a dream come true for Morey, who has tried to acquire Dwight in past seasons from Orlando via trade, but failed due to Dwight making it known he did not want to play in Houston. Oh how times have changed, one playoff season and James Harden later and Dwight could very well sign his name on the dotted line locking himself into a 4 year contract with the up and coming Rockets. That's if he decides sign though, the Lakers and Mavericks are also favorable situations for Dwight, but which situation is actually the best? By looking at the financial situations, player personnel, play style, front office personnel, future outlook, and various outside factors of all 3 teams, we can narrow down which situation is actually best for Dwight.
Dwight Howard's maximum starting salary is 20.51M, which all three teams can offer him given that they make the correct moves. Here's each team's cap situation and how they can open up enough cap room to offer him a max deal.
The Rockets will have to clear shop if they want to be able to offer Dwight 20.51M. As it stands right now the Rockets have James Harden, Omer Asik, Jeremy Lin, Terrence Jones, Donatas Montiejunas, Thomas Robinson, and Royce White all on guaranteed contracts. Chandler Parsons, Patrick Beverley, Greg Smith, Aaron Brooks, Carlos Delfino, Francisco Garcia (team option just declined), and James Andersen are all on non-guaranteed contracts which have team options.
If the Rockets were to decline all options except for Parsons, Beverley, and Smith, they should be looking at about 15.3M in cap room. That's nowhere enough for Dwight to even entertain coming to Houston, but luckily for them the cap will increase (to let's say 60M) granting the Rockets 71.8 cents on the dollar for which the cap was increased, giving the Rockets an extra 1.5M in cap room, resulting in 16.8M open for spending.
This still isn't enough, but there are two roads the Rockets could do down to open up near 3.7M in cap room needed to offer Dwight a max contract.
1) Trade Thomas Robinson:
I don't like this situation because I like T-Rob's future as a player in the NBA, but if Dwight wants a max contract to come to Houston, Thomas Robinson would be traded within the minute. Thomas is due 3.53 million, if he's traded for a future pick or expiring contract, there's a cost of 490K due to the open roster spot, granting the Rockets an open 3.04M, giving them 19.84M in cap space. 700K isn't going to keep Dwight Howard from coming here, so let's say it's close enough.
2) Move the other rookies
I prefer this plan than moving Robinson, here's why. Royce White (1.72M), Terrence Jones (1.55M), and Donatas Motiejunas (1.42M) are all tradable pieces in getting Dwight. They would have to be traded for future picks or expiring contracts to maximize cap space. By trading all three for expirings, the Rockets can clear 3.28M, giving them enough to make Dwight seriously consider Houston as his new home. As well, the Rockets don't give up one of their best young players in Robinson, instead they give up two players who quite possibly could be out of the NBA in 4 years and Terrence Jones a talented, but flawed player. Given the outlook of the team, I think Robinson's all-star potential will be move valuable than these three players.
At the end of the day, the Rockets would have to make a lot of moves to clear enough cap space for Dwight, but they're all realistic moves which can easily be made. The catch though is that the contract can only be for 4 years with a 4.5% annual increase. The Lakers however can offer him 5 years with a 7.5% annual increase. Knowing this, every million matters to get close to the 20.5M mark.
The Mavericks as well have to make moves to maximize their cap room. As it stands right now, the only Mavericks who are on the books for next year are Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion, Vince Carter, Jae Crowder, and Jarred Cunningham. Assuming they waive all non-guaranteed contracts such as Bernard James, they can manipulate themselves to having 16.7M in cap room (after taking into account the increase in the cap and various roster cap holds).
With 16.7M in cap room, the Mavericks can make a decision on either Shawn Marion, Vince Carter, or their draft pick (I'm assuming it's 14th overall). The draft pick has a roster hold of 1.57M, if they decide to move it the amount of cap room increases to 18.3M. This puts them 2.2M away from being able to offer Dwight a max contract. The Mavericks have two decisions to make from here:
1) Trade Vince Carter
If they trade Vince Carter who is due 3.2M next year, given that they don't take any money back in the trade, will successfully open enough money for Dwight.
2) Trade Shawn Marion
Shawn Marion is due a whopping 9.3M, the Mavericks can take back a player/players worth 7.1M and still be able to sign Dwight to a max contract. This is providing they can find players who are quality worth that much.
Like the Rockets, the Mavericks can manipulate their cap room via cutting players and trades to open up enough to offer Dwight his super-max contract. This puts them in the same financial situation as the Rockets, leaving other factors to tilt the tables in Dwight's decision.
118 Million. 118 Million. 118 Million.
That's the number that matters when it comes to the cap situation for the Lakers. They can offer Dwight a 5 year 118 million contract with annual increases of 7.5%. Also they can do it without cutting anyone due to them owning Dwight's bird rights. The only issue is whether or not the Lakers want to take the luxury tax hit that comes along with signing Dwight. I'm not sure of the exact number which they will have to pay, but it's reported to be over 80 million dollars, which is a huge hit even for the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Lakers seem to not care about the tax hit that extending Dwight comes with, and if Dwight's decision is based on money, LA is the place for him.
Who has the best cap situation?
Taking only the money into account, Los Angeles makes the best case for re signing Dwight. They can 30 million more than Houston and Dallas, plus they give Dwight security for the future with the 5th year. If Dwight is worried about his health, Los Angeles is the right place for him due to the 5th year. If Dwight's #1 concern is the money, Los Angeles is also the place for him. They can offer him more money and more security, making their cap situation the best in the Dwight Howard Sweepstakes.
Advantage: Los Angeles
Player Personnel/Play Style:
Dwight wants to play a certain style of basketball while still staying a first option, which team can best change themselves to fit Dwight's wants?
The Rockets are young, talented, play an uptempo game, and have a budding superstar in James Harden. If the Rockets were to acquire Dwight, they would instantly be be a top 3 team in the West. Dwight Howard knows this. Dwight knows that by coming here he would be contending for a championship for the 4 years he's in Houston.
The real question is whether he likes the players which are around him and the style the Rockets play. The Rockets play a run and gun high volume three point shooting game by using a lot of pick and rolls. Luckily for Dwight, this plays right into his strengths. As a roll man on the pick and roll, Dwight scores 1.3 PPP and shoots almost 80%. Also, James Harden and Jeremy Lin are very good pick and roll players who can get into the lane well and dish creative passes to Dwight for easy buckets.
He also excels playing an inside out game where the offense revolved around him (like when he was in Orlando). Although he's not a strong post player, he still is a threat to score down there, allowing for the offense to open up via his kick outs. Imagine Parsons receiving a pass from Dwight in the corner to knock down an open 3. I could get used to that real quick.
The issue is whether or not Dwight will want to be the second banana to Harden on this Rockets team. We've seen what happens when he is the second option to Kobe, and it's not good. Could this factor be affecting Dwight's decision, or are James Harden and the offense unselfish enough to give Dwight enough touches to keep him happy? I think that Jeremy Lin and Harden will feed Dwight enough for him to get his 18-22 points a game and keep him interested during the season preventing a situation similar to what happened in LA.
Also, Dwight will want to play in a pick and roll system like Houston's which is kind of similar to Orlando's. Dwight doesn't like the D'antoni system, so will the Rockets change their offense to fit Howard by adding more pick and rolls, or will Howard have to fit into the Rocket's offense? These are the issues which will have to be cleared before Dwight signs in Houston.
Defensively, Dwight hasn't been at his best, possibly due to injury, or other reasons which we don't know. Whatever it is, I think that Dwight can bounce back and still make his elite impact on the Rockets defense. If he can get back to being his Defensive Player of the Year self, nobody can hold down the paint like he can. Omer Asik is a great defender who held the defense together this past year, Dwight Howard can do that and more. He also can rebound, he led the league in rebounds, while being whatever percent, and the less offensive possessions the opponents have, the less points they score, and the better the Rockets defense is. The Rockets could easily become a top 10 defense when Dwight is on the court due to his athleticism, smarts, and all around defensive ability.
If the Rockets tailor their offense to make Dwight option 1b by feeding him where and when he wants the ball, I don't see why Dwight wouldn't want to come to Houston.
The Mavericks will have very few quality players left if they sign Howard, but one of those quality players just happens to be future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki. The popular argument against Dwight going to the Mavericks goes something along the lines of "Will Dwight want to help Dirk to another championship while he's on his last legs?", well I'm just going to say in black and white that that argument is stupid. Dirk is not anywhere being done or on his last legs, he can still play at an elite level. What people should be asking is "Will Dirk help Dwight get his first championship?". He very well could.
There shouldn't be any questions or issues on whether or not Dirk will play like Dirk for the next 4 years, because he will when it matters. There have been very few better players in the playoffs than Dirk over the past 13 years. If Cuban is capable of assembling a playoff caliber roster around Dirk and Dwight, then Dwight knows he'll be going to war with one of the clutchest players to ever play the game.
Who else would Dwight be going to war with though? Not much. The Mavericks would have very little cap room to sign quality players to surround Dirk and Dwight. A team cannot win a championship being built around two players and fillers around them. It's not a plan that works.
Dwight might overlook that however, since the only person in his way for touches is Dirk. Dwight will probably get the most touches on the Mavericks versus any other team since he and Dirk seem to be the only two actual basketball players set to be on the team next year (a little extreme, but you get what I mean). Whether it be in the post or on the pick and roll, Dwight will get the ball. Dwight will finally be the first banana he's wanted to always be, and that might sway the decision in Dallas' favor.
On the defensive end, Dwight will make a huge impact. Carlisle is a very defensive coach who knows how to scheme to use his player's advantages. Dirk also loves to play with great defensive centers (Tyson Chandler?) because his skill set meshes with them on defense. Dwight will be able to make up for Dirk's lack of rebounding and defense, plus more. This will make a huge impact in the playoffs if they make it.
Overall, Dallas seems to be a work in progress in the personnel department, but Dwight will be the #1 option in their offense, and that might matter to Dwight more than anything (I feel like I've said that at least 10 times already, but it just proves the fact that nobody knows what Dwight is thinking, Dwight might not even know what he's thinking). Since the team hasn't been put together, it's up in the air on how they will play, but the Mavericks are known for posting up their bigs, which might not appeal to Dwight.
Los Angeles Lakers:
I'm not ready to give up on the "Dream Team" in Los Angeles. I think injuries and the way that they were coached played a huge part in their underachievement last season. Kobe has a very good chance of coming back and playing at the high level he has been all his career, Steve Nash is still a quality point guard who can make any pass, and Pau is still one of the better big men in the league. When it comes to the best talent on the team, the Lakers have the advantage of Houston and Dallas, but will they play to their advantages?
It has been well documented over the past season that Dwight and Pau both need to be on the low block on offense, but there's only enough room down there for 1 of them. How D'antoni will manage this is beyond me, but he needs to figure out a solution quick before Dwight heads for the south. Will Pau have to stay out by the free throw line, will they be on the court together less, or will they alternate at the low block while they share the floor? These are all questions which will need to be answered by the Lakers. If D'antoni keeps the same offensive game plan from last year, Dwight won't have any part of it and leave. He's already voiced his issues with D'antoni to Kupchak.
Being paired with Pau might be an issue on the offensive end, but it makes for a very impactful pairing on the defensive end. Pairing these two 7 footers together creates a rebounding vortex, opposing teams will have to work for every offensive rebound they get. Teams will also have a hard time scoring in the paint due to them clogging it up. This allows for the Laker's perimeter players to player a step or two closer to the three point line, putting more pressure on the opposing ball handlers. These factors help make for an above average defense.
If the Lakers can stay healthy and change their offense to play to Dwight's strengths and wants, Los Angeles' talent might be enough to make Dwight want to stay.
What team has the best players to fit how Dwight wants to play?
The Lakers have the best players out of the three teams, but their health and age are huge issues in Dwight's decision. The Mavericks would have to pull off lots of moves to somehow put a quality team around Dirk and Dwight. The Rockets however are young, play to Dwight's strengths, and will willingly feed him the ball, making for their style of play and players the best fit for him.
Front Office Personnel:
Important for every superstar trying to win a championship is a coach who will play to his strengths, a General Manager who can keep upgrading the surrounding players, and an owner who is willing to spend money to do so.
Kevin Mchale has been doing a very good job making the most of what he has on the team. He helped make the Rockets a playoff team after all but two of his players from last season were moved. His uptempo pick and roll style plays to Dwight's strengths, and is similar to when he was at his best in Orlando. Kevin Mchale also is one of the best big-men to ever play the game, he can help Dwight work on his post game, as well as give him insight on how to become a championship level player. I think that the two will get along very well, since Mchale was one of the best bigs when he played, he can relate to Dwight and get through to him to teach him what he needs.
Daryl Morey (Should be Executive of the Year) shouldn't be questioned by anyone whether or not he can build a team around Dwight and Harden. Daryl excels in finding second round picks who can make an impact in the league as well as signing players from overseas who can come and make an impact. Chandler Parsons and Patrick Beverley are two of the many examples of Daryl's successes. He's always trying to add superstars to the team no matter what the situation is. If Dwight comes to Houston, he'll be paired with a General Manager who will never stop trying to upgrade the Rockets by adding another superstar and quality players. Out of the three General Managers, Daryl Morey is the best and safest bet.
Les Alexander seems to be the weak link of the three for Houston. It's unknown whether or not Les will want to pay the high taxes that come with going past the tax line. With the new CBA those fines are very high, and it might not be in the Rockets best profit interest to do so. If he is willing to go past the tax line, there should be no issues, but if he's not willing to, then Daryl has his work out for him.
Rick Carlisle is a top 4 coach in the league, no questions about it. His teams rarely ever miss the playoffs, and he has shown he can make the necessary adjustments to win a championship. He emphasizes defense in his game plans, an aspect which will most likely appeal to Dwight. On offense though, Carlisle runs his offense through the post and the two man game between a guard and a big. Dwight is better in a system using pick and rolls versus one where the bigs work from the post. Carlisle is very smart, so it's not a question whether or not he will be able to adjust to use Dwight the way he should be. If he can't, I don't know who can.
Donnie Nelson is the General Manager of the Dallas Mavericks. I still have yet to decide on whether or not he is one of the best GMs or just decent. He helped break up the Maverick's championship team (a wound that still hurts), signed Erik Dampier, and has failed to find any real good players in the draft. However, he also traded for Jason Kidd, Tyson Chandler, and Caron Butler. I go back and forth on him, but when it comes down it it, he's not afraid to make moves, sometimes ones which don't even seem to be there (acquiring Darren Collison for example). He will make moves to put pieces around Dwight, the question is whether or not they'll be good moves.
If you don't like Mark Cuban, stop reading this paragraph now. If you give me any choice of owner in the league, Cuban is mine every time. He's not afraid to spend the money required to put a championship team together, he has first class everything for his players, he's passionate, and most importantly he cares about winning over everything. If Dwight really wants his first championship, Cuban is the best owner to help him get it because he wants it as bad or more than Dwight.
Los Angeles Lakers:
Mike D'antoni is the current coach of the Lakers, if Dwight wants to come back to LA, he might not be. Recently, Dwight has expressed his dislike or Mike D'antoni as his coach, and it seems like he could be on the way out if LA really is committed to Dwight staying. Then they'll have to pick whichever coach makes Dwight happiest. I'll just leave the Lakers coaching situation at that, because it's a mess.
Mitch Kupchak has been the general manager of the Lakers since 2000 (when he reportedly was fully in control of basketball decisions). He has made a lot of controversial decisions, but they have all seemed to work out. Until his last one, he traded for Dwight somehow (that was not the best offer for Dwight and we all know it). Kupchak is similar to Morey in that he is always trying to upgrade the Laker's player situation, and he does a good job of it. Does Dwight have enough trust in Kupchak to stay with the Lakers?
The Lakers ownership consists of all 6 of Jerry Buss' children. Since they just recently took over, it's still too early to know how they will run the organization. If they are like Jerry, they will spend money, more money, and even more money to win championships, but if their more worried about making profits, then they will have to cut costs, beginning with basketball player salaries. The ownership situation could go either way, but I'm leaning toward that they will spend money like their father did.
Which Front office and coach are the best fit for Dwight?
The Lakers are out of the argument as long as D'antoni is their coach, so that leaves the Rockets and Mavericks. The Rockets have one of the best General Managers and a coach who can relate to Dwight, but Les might not share the same goal that Dwight has, which is to win championships. The Mavericks however have an owner whose #1 goal is winning, one of the best coaches in the league, and a general manager who has proved that he can work in tight situations to improve his team.
Dwight isn't signing a 1 year contract, he'll be signing with his new team for at least 4 years, and possibly more if he decides to sign another contract afterwards. Which team will give him the best opportunity to win over the next 4+ years?
Almost all the Rockets are young and have yet to enter their primes. Jeremy Lin, James Harden, and Omer Asik are just now coming off their first years as starters, Chandler Parsons is only in his second year, and players like D-Mo, Terrence Jones, Thomas Robinson, and Patrick Beverley all have a lot more improving. This core by itself has a lot of promise in the future, so much that it could possibly compete for the championship in the next 1 or two years and many after that.
We all know how good this core is, and if they prove to be of championship contending quality, they'll stick around for a while. Let's assume though that they don't. What happens next? Well, in 2015 when Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik come off the books, the Rockets could have 15M in cap room to spend on another superstar. If this is Morey's plan for the future, I'm sure the promise of a big 3 in the future will appeal to Dwight. As well, if the superstar is signed, the Rockets will be able to sign Chandler Parsons and Thomas Robinson to extensions over the cap via owning their bird rights. That means building a team around James Harden, Dwight Howard, Superstar C, Thomas Robinson, and Chandler Parsons. That could contend with anyone.
That gives Dwight two different situations to look forward to, one where Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik stay on the Rockets (given they don't make a trade), or one where the Rockets are based around 3 superstars, Chandler Parsons, and whatever Thomas Robinson becomes in the future. I'm sure no team in the league can promise what the Rockets can promise in this situation. The future in Houston is very bright.
Dirk might not be on his last legs just yet, but in 4 years he won't be the same he is right now. 4 years from now, I wouldn't want my team built around Dirk and Dwight Howard. There needs to be more there, a lot more. To help build a team around the two in the future, Dirk has promised to take a "significant pay cut" which Tim Mcmahon (DallasESPN writer) is speculating to be around 10-12 million dollars annual salary for Dirk. That's a huge pay cut, that's about 10 million extra dollars for the Mavericks to go out and sign another quality player. That has to be a selling point to Dwight for the future of the Mavericks.
Other than Dirk though, the current players on the team have little to look forward to in their careers. Vince Carter is on his way out of the league, Shawn Marion is getting older, and guys like Jae Crowder and Jarred Cunningham just aren't very good and have little to look forward to. The future of the Dallas Mavericks is contingent on working the free agent market and trades, which makes it too hard to speculate who will be coming to Dallas if Dwight signs with them. Say they do sign another superstar, are Dirk, Dwight, and superstar C really that intimidating 4 years from now? That doesn't seem like a championship contender to me, but who knows what moves the Mavericks can make in the future to get back to the championship.
Los Angeles Lakers:
If the Lakers go forward with their "dream team", their window to compete for a championship will probably only be open for about 2 years. After that? There's not much to look forward to. The Lakers have traded almost all of their first and second round picks away for the next 5 years and have no promising young players on their team. There's not much to look forward to other than their cap space.
In 2014, Lebron James could possibly make his way onto the open market again. The Lakers will most likely have enough cap room to offer him the max contract he deserves (he took less money to be in Miami). I don't care who else is on the team, a team with Lebron on it is a threat to win a championship, add in Dwight and you have the best duo in the league. If Lebron is willing to leave Miami for Los Angeles (a situation which is very realistic) then Dwight will have positioned himself to play with the best player in the game since Michael Jordan. That sounds like a good future plan.
If it works out. If it doesn't, then the Lakers will be stuck with no young assets, no picks, and lots of cap room to use. There will be other players on the market, but are they as good as James Harden or Lebron? I doubt it. It's a risk in the future for Dwight to sign with Lakers if they aren't able to secure a contract with Lebron.
Which team has the most promising future?
Given the current pieces on each team, the Rockets have the best young players and the most to look forward to if the teams keep the same core that they have. That's unrealistic though, the Lakers and Mavericks will both sign players via free agency over the next 4 years to help build around Dwight. The question is, will those players be better than the players Houston has or can put around Dwight. Unless the Lakers or Mavericks can sign Lebron, the answer is no. With that said, Houston is the safest and best bet for Dwight going into the future. He can stay here for 4+ years and possibly compete for a championship in every one. LA and Dallas can't promise him that.
Sadly, basketball isn't the only factor in Dwight's decision, there are also other factors such as the city, taxes, and outside opportunities that come into play. Which city has the best non-basketball scene for Dwight?
Working in Texas as a basketball player has a huge advantage due to the income tax, Dwight's tax savings if he comes to Houston will push 10 million dollars. With the 10 million dollars in savings over the 4 years, it still doesn't make up for the 30 million difference, but it's a big chunk. I'm sure Danny Fegan (Dwight and Chandler's agent) has already told him all of this.
Houston is also a very community centric city, which is very open to all the people that come here. Houston has been voted and is one of the coolest cities, hippest cities, largest cities, best up and coming cities, and most ethnically diverse cities in the United States. It has everything that all the other big cities in the USA have and more. A great art scene, sports scene, and nightlife scene.
However, there's one thing which Houston has that a city like LA doesn't. The sponsorship and endorsements. Houston does have sponsorships and endorsements which Dwight will most likely hired for, but they're not as global as LA's, and probably don't pay as much.
If this was 20-30 years ago, Dallas would be the place to be. Back then Dallas was the hottest city in the USA. Not so much anymore (that's actually Houston). With that said, they're still a big city with its draws. It has the sports life, a high amount of rich people, and a very nice downtown area. It has everything you want in a big city.
It even has the same taxing policies as Houston. So by going to Dallas, Dwight will save his 10 million dollars as well.
As far as endorsements go however, there will be more endorsements than in Houston, but less than in LA. The money is most likely less as well, making it not as appealable than Los Angeles.
Los Angeles Lakers:
Los Angeles is still Los Angeles, they have probably the biggest draw of any city in the United States. They have the movie scene, the famous people, the beach, the high end areas, ect. ect. ect. Plus it's in California where the weather is amazing and doesn't change three times a day.
Los Angeles does have high income taxes though, which will play a role in Dwight making his decision. 10 million dollars is a lot of money, will losing that 10 million dollars be worth the chance to play with Lebron and enjoy the California weather?
The most important draw from LA is the endless amount of endorsements. There are so many opportunities for basketball players in Los Angeles, whether it be movies (Ron Artest and Matt Barnes were actually just recently in Think Like a Man), commercials, online companies, and many others. There's a lot of easy money to be made there, especially if Dwight is committed to LA for the next 5 years.
What City is The Best For Dwight?
Houston is up and coming as a city just like its team, it's the cool place to be, and it has low taxes. Dallas has low income taxes as well, and a large amount of millionaires, as well as a very nice downtown. Los Angeles might not have the same tax savings, but boasts lots of endorsement deals, fun things to do, and great weather. It's really a toss up between Houston and LA, depending on what Dwight values more.
Advantage: Houston and LA
What Situation is Best for Dwight Howard?:
We've gone through lots of different factors that will take a part in Dwight's decision. We've established that Los Angeles can offer the most money and years, that Houston plays to Dwight Howard's strengths and has the most to look forward to, that Dallas has the best front office and coaching personnel for Dwight, and that Los Angeles and Houston have the most appealing non basketball factors. What will be the tilting point in Dwight's decision though?
It comes down to whether or not Dwight is worried about the money or winning. Los Angeles can offer him the most money and Houston the best chance to win. With that, let's throw Dallas out of the argument now. It's between Houston and Los Angeles. At this point in his career, Dwight has made a lot of money, he doesn't need more, he needs a ring to solidify himself as one of the greatest centers of all time. Houston is the best chance for him to get that ring, they can compete for the next 2 years and then sign a third superstar to compete with them. Los Angeles might only be good for the next 2 years and then try to sign Lebron, if that fails then Dwight is stuck in Los Angeles for the next 3 years without hope to win a championship. Houston has the best balance between talent and security. All the other factors take the backseat to winning, thus Houston is the best situation for Dwight Howard.
The Best Situation for Dwight: The Houston Rockets
Special thanks to @BimaThug and @LarryCoon for the information on the cap situations.