Will Dwight Howard return to Houston Rockets next summer?

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You can spin how hard they were looking to make a move depending on your motives, but the Houston Rockets were undoubtedly open to moving Dwight Howard at the trade deadline. It didn’t happen. Because Daryl Morey wanted a first-round pick (not late in the round) and a good player back. And because no team was going to give that up for Howard because he can be a free agent this summer (the only reasons to land him now was to put a team over the top into contention, or because they want to offer him a fifth year in free agency, no teams fit those categories).

This summer, Dwight Howard will opt out of his contract and become a free agent.

Then what? He might come back to the Rockets, suggests Jonathan Feigen at the Houston Chronicle.

“Dwight’s a great player,” Morey said after the deadline on Thursday. “He wants to be in Houston. We want him to be in Houston. I was disappointed some things got out rumor-wise, but all those things were myself doing diligence. That’s part of my job…”

In keeping with their usual free-agent strategies, the Rockets plan is to chase the summer’s top free agent, Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, using the chance to play with two top-echelon players as the heart of the pitch they hope to make.

James Harden, Durant’s former Thunder teammate, would be one of those stars. Depending on what it would cost to keep him, the Rockets still believe Howard could be the other.

The odds of Houston landing Durant in free agency are long. Not impossible, but long. KD wants to win now, he’s on a very good team in Oklahoma City and is, at least, thinking about a jump to Golden State. Durant loved playing with Harden, but in a win-now scenario is Durant better off in Houston then with those other two options?

But the fact the Rockets might keep Howard is worth noting.

The market for Howard this summer will be interesting. He wants a max contract, which for him after 10 years in the league will start around $30 million a season. That’s a lot of scratch, more than some teams are willing to pay. But what worries teams more than the money is the years — Howard is 30 now, has battled back and shoulder issues, and would be 35 at the end of his next contract. The Rockets can offer him five years, but would they? Every other team can offer four years, but a number of teams don’t want to go that far with him.

It will come down to value. Does another team value Howard and what he can bring to the court — he still is strong defensively and can score near the basket, plus steps up in the playoffs — more than the Rockets? Howard and Harden have not meshed well, would the Rockets be willing to move on because of that? Or can that be fixed.

Daryl Morey has worked hard to try to get superstars to Houston. He’s going to think hard about letting one walk away in Howard, even if this is not the same Howard of a few years back.