The Lakers knew this when they traded for Dwight Howard last summer — under the terms of the new CBA it makes financial sense for a max player to play out his current deal and become a free agent then re-sign with the same team than it does to sign an extension to a deal and never hit the open market. Said player can get one more guaranteed year and larger raises if he becomes a free agent and re-signs than if he signs an extension.
But that means players have to become free agents for a stretch and other teams can approach them.
Howard will become a free agent this summer and is going to talk to other teams besides the Lakers, reports Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com.
According to several sources familiar with Howard’s thinking, Howard will likely explore free agency before reaching his final decision. In today’s media landscape, that means there will be a circus in July while Howard hears pitches from the likes of the Dallas Mavericks and Cleveland Cavaliers.
I’d throw the Houston Rockets in that mix, as well. Atlanta will want to be in the mix but word out of Howard’s camp consistently has been he doesn’t want to go back home. Of course, the Lakers will call him at midnight July 1 with a max offer as well.
Let’s talk money first, because it’s always about the money.
Howard is a lock for a max deal. The difference in money is the Lakers can offer an expected five years, $118 million, other teams coming in could offer four years, $87.6 million. (Those numbers could move a little once the new salary cap levels are set for next season, but said cap is expected to be in the $60 million range). That’s about a $30 million difference, for those of you scoring at home. You can say for a player who has made more than $100 million in his career (and likely will get one more max deal after this one) that the money isn’t the biggest issue, but would you leave $30 million guaranteed on the table? In a year after you felt your basketball mortality after struggling to return from back surgery?
Now the big question: Would Dwight Howard leave the Lakers?
I doubt it. Clearly his first year in Los Angeles didn’t go as smoothly as he hoped — he rushed back from back surgery and didn’t play up to his standards, and he heard about it from the demanding Lakers fan base. He and Kobe Bryant had to adjust to each other, the Lakers switched coaches this season, Howard fought through a torn labrum, injuries ravaged the team, and the Lakers will be bounced from the NBA playoffs in the first round, likely on Sunday.
You can look at all that, say Howard didn’t have fun and that he could go to Houston with James Harden or Dallas with Dirk Nowitzki or Cleveland with Kyrie Irving and win. And maybe be happier. For Howard basketball has to be fun for him to play his best and he might think he will have more fun in another market with another star.
Here is why I think he doesn’t leave — image.
Howard is still trying to rehabilitate a public image that took a hit after the ugly way he left Orlando. To move again away from one of the NBA’s premiere franchises to go to a lesser light will not help that — he’s be painted as the guy who could not fill the shoes of Miken, Wilt, Kareem and Shaq. Go to Dallas or Houston and you go from a place where the Lakers are kings of the market to a place where football is king and basketball gets a lesser spotlight. Leave and his reputation as indecisive continues.
Winning is how Howard fixes that image. Howard knows the Lakers would have everybody but himself and Steve Nash off the books in the summer of 2014 — they can reshape the roster to win with him as the focus. The Lakers have said they want him to take the reins of the franchise from Kobe Bryant in the coming years (ideally Kobe would cede a little of that power next season to a healthy Howard). Most of all, you know the Lakers can draw free agents and spend in a way few other teams can to win. He’s not leaving to go somewhere else and have a better chance at a ring.
But we all want to be wanted. So Howard is going to flirt with other teams besides the Lakers this summer.