We haven't even hit June yet, but free agency speculation is beginning to ramp up. With the Rockets set to make a pitch to Dwight Howard in less than six weeks, Ken Berger of CBS Sports is reporting that they are the Rockets "intrigue him the most" at this juncture. Here's what Berger had to say:
With six weeks to go before Howard becomes an unrestricted free agent, the team that is said to intrigue him the most is the Houston Rockets, according to multiple people briefed on internal conversations surrounding Howard's free-agent decision. The Rockets have a young star, James Harden, who has proved himself worthy of playing the leading role for the franchise; a budding 3-point shooting threat in Chandler Parsons; a defensive-minded coach in Kevin McHale; and Omer Asik, the kind of 7-footer Howard is believed to want next to him in the frontcourt.The clear advantage for the Lakers in their effort to re-sign Howard is the 2011 collective bargaining agreement, which allows LA to give Howard a five-year deal with annual increases based on 7.5 percent of his first-year salary in a new deal -- which will be in excess of $20 million. Another team with cap room to sign Howard could only give him a four-year deal with 4.5 percent annual increases -- the same arrangement Howard would be limited to if he agreed to leave via a sign-and-trade.
But Howard is only 27, and barring a career-ending injury, he'll clearly get one more max deal after this one. A four-year deal with an opt-out after three years, for example, would in some ways be preferable to Howard because he'd hit the open market again at age 30 and could then secure his five-year max deal. Also, by signing with a team in Texas -- where the Rockets and Mavs obviously reside -- Howard would reap substantial savings by paying no state income tax. According to some early estimates, Howard's tax savings in Texas could approach $10 million over four years.
In short: Let the Dwightmare begin. Again.
We've discussed Dwight Howard over and over in past 15 months as the Rockets have targeted him over and over again, so you pretty much know the book on him. He, along with James Harden, would form one of the top duos in the league, and would instantly vault the Rockets into the conversation with all the contenders in the Western Conference. There's little doubt that Morey will do whatever he can to get him in a Rockets uniform because the potential payoff is so high.
What is in doubt is how healthy Howard will be and how much of a long-term effect his back injuries will have. There was talk before the season that Howard's back had a degenerative condition, but as the season went along, Howard progressed and improved immensely. By the end of the year, he was clearly approaching 100%, and helped push the Lakers into the playoffs.
Whether that healthy back will hold up is what would give Morey the slightest bit on anxiety before signing him a four year max contract. After waiting years for Yao and Tracy McGrady's contracts to finally expire, the Rockets can't afford to deal with another injured star sucking up space on the payroll.
Regardless of the concerns, it's extremely exciting to even be in the conversation and to imagine Howard in this offense. In Los Angeles, Howard was miscast for his role, and with the Rockets, Kevin McHale could put Howard in the middle and space the floor with four shooters around him, allowing him the space he had to operate in Orlando. Surely that freedom will be a big part of the Rockets pitch to Howard, and let's hope it, along with the potential for a number of titles in Houston is enough to sway him to turn down Los Angeles.