Report: Rockets expect Dwight Howard to opt out next summer

AP
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Dwight Howard is reportedly unhappy taking a backseat to James Harden on the Rockets. Howard insists that’s untrue, but this much is clear:

Howard’s 2016-17 salary is slated to be $23,282,457 if he opts into the final year of his contract.

Sam Amick of USA Today:

a person with knowledge of the Rockets situation said they are expecting him to opt out and become a free agent.

Howard’s max starting salary next summer projects to be about $30 million. That’d mean about $170 million over five years if he re-signs or about $128 million over four years elsewhere.

Teams – including Houston – ought to think before offering Howard that much.

Howard is on the wrong side of 30 and playing his worst basketball since his rookie year. That situation typically doesn’t improve with time, especially not for big men with Howard’s playing style.

Yes, the salary cap is skyrocketing under the new national TV contracts. But that revenue is already coming in and raises Howard’s max. This isn’t quite like last summer, when max contracts didn’t reflect a new environment the league knew was coming. Next summer, that new world be here, and max contracts will be structured accordingly.

But this is probably still a good move for Howard.

The sudden and drastic salary-cap increase will give an unprecedented number of teams major cap space. Likely, at least one of him will pay a premium for his serves.

Even with his decline, Howard is a good player. Teams trying to win now can use him, especially ones with enough depth to limit his playing time.

He might need to choose between a max starting salary and a max contract length, but that’s not much of a concern relative to his player option. Howard can get short of the max and still come out way ahead. There’s a wide range between $23,282,457 and the $30 million max , and any dollar over $23,282,457 in Howard’s 2016-17 salary is a bonus to him. Plus, he’ll lock in whatever extra years he can get at age 30 instead of at age 31. That’s also to his benefit.

All that said, how do the Rockets proceed with this expectation?

Daryl Morey didn’t match Chandler Parsons‘ offer sheet from the Mavericks, because the Houston general manager believed matching would have reduced his team’s chance of winning a championship. Giving Howard a five-year max or near-max could similarly set back the Rockets. It’d hurt in the short term to lose a helpful player, but the Rockets clearly aren’t winning a championship now, anyway. Howard declining over a long-term deal could hinder their ability to get there.

If Morey doesn’t want to give Howard a major deal next summer – and this is hypothetical – why not trade him now and get something in return? The Rockets’ continued struggles make it increasingly unlikely Howard contributes to any meaningful success in Houston this season. And if he’s leaving next summer, there’s no point just letting him play out the string until then.

Essentially, Morey should determine his plan for Howard before the trade deadline.

That’s no simple task, and it’s not even enough. Howard, who will be an unrestricted free agent, could always spurn a mega offer from Houston to sign elsewhere. This is where his happiness level becomes especially important.

Complicating matters even further, Howard could change his mind (again). Even if he says today he plans to opt out, that might not be the case tomorrow.

But with the financial interests clearly dictating he opt out, I think he’ll follow through this time. That puts the Rockets implement a plan – one that should focus on either trading him or going all out to re-sign him.