Report: Dwight Howard has July 1 meetings with Boston, Atlanta

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Boston is in need of star players, even ones past their prime. At this point Danny Ainge will talk to anyone.

Atlanta is Dwight Howard‘s hometown.

The center is a free agent come July 1 and he is setting up meetings, too. The two on the list so far are named above, reports Marc Stein and Chris Broussard of ESPN.

The Atlanta Hawks and Boston Celtics are the first known teams to secure face-to-face recruiting meetings with free-agent big man Dwight Howard, according to league sources.

Sources told ESPN that Howard is likely to meet with as many as five teams in free agency, with a return to the Houston Rockets widely seen as unlikely after Howard declined his $23.2 million player option for next season.

Unlikely? That’s putting it kindly after the Rockets hired Mike D’Antoni as coach.

A number of other teams may look to talk to Howard once they lose out in the Hassan Whiteside sweepstakes — he is the much hotter target at center. Teams such as the Heat and Mavericks, among others, who are targeting Whiteside likely have Howard as a fallback.

Boston is going to go after every star on the market. Atlanta is more complicated, in the past Howard has been resistant to a return home (many players are leery of the off-the-court distractions and demands that come with playing in their hometown). However, Howard may be more open to the idea as his other options shrink.

Howard averaged 13.7 points a game on only 8.5 shot attempts per game, and added 11.8 rebounds a night. He played good defense, although not at the pre back surgery levels. Howard hopes to get a max contract, which will start at $30.8 million for him (with the projected salary cap of $94 million).

Teams will be hesitant to pay that much. However, more important to some than the money is the years — with Howard’s history of back issues, many teams are hesitant to offer a contract even three years in length.

However, as the options for other teams shrivel up in free agency more and more will take a second look at Howard. And when he signs a lot of people will shake their head at the contract.