The Rockets do not have enough cap room to give Dwight Howard a max contract.
They could waive all four of their players with fully unguaranteed contracts – Greg Smith, Patrick Beverley,Tim Ohlbrecht and James Anderson – and they still wouldn’t have enough cap room.
If Howard chooses Houston, perhaps as early as today, the Rockets will either have to convince him to take less money or do some wheeling and dealing.
Howard’s contract can start at $20,513,178 next season, regardless of which team signs him, and it wouldn’t be difficult for the Rockets to clear that much cap room. Waiving Greg Smith, Patrick Beverley,Tim Ohlbrecht and James Anderson and using the stretch provision on Royce White would do the trick. That seems less than ideal, but if it meant getting Howard, I’m sure Darryl Morey would do it in a heartbeat.
However, Howard can’t officially sign until July 10. So, if he commits to the Rockets before then, they’d have a little time to clear space.
Dumping Ohlbrecht and Anderson probably wouldn’t be an issue, but Smith and Beverly have value. Houston could trade any two-man combination of Smith, Beverly, White, Terrence Jonesand Donatas Motiejunas except Beverly-Smith and Beverly-Motiejunas for future draft picks or unsigned second rounders, and that would clear enough room to give Howard a max contract.
Bigger moves – perhaps involving Jeremy Lin and/or Omer Asik – are also possible, but trading two lesser-paid players is probably the simplest route to getting Howard his max contract.
Of course, if Howard picks the Rockets, he’ll certainly talk about Houston’s chances to win a championship. Would he give up money to increase those odds? Beverly, Smith and even White could contribute to a winning team.
If the Rockets waive only Ohlbrecht and Anderson, they could still offer Howard a four-year, $87,591,270 contract. With his full maximum from a team besides the Lakers, Howard could get $82,059,635 – so he’d be sacrificing $5,531,635.
Still, that would be minimal compared to the at least $28,821,015 he’d be giving up by signing with any team besides the Lakers, who can offer larger annual raises and a fifth guaranteed season.*
*I think it’s slightly disingenuous to compare the amount Howard would be losing by leaving Los Angeles in terms of five versus four years. Though there’s certainly no guarantee, it’s likely Howard can get another max contract after this one. So, if he leaves the Lakers and gets max contracts both this summer and following this one, he’d be giving up just $4,374,435 during the next five years.
Anyway, back to the present. If Howard agrees to sign with the Rockets, that means at least one of two things: He’s taking less than a maximum contract and/or Houston has more moves in store.