Dwight Howard will likely determine most of what happens with the entire NBA free-agent market this summer, and those in league circles have little clue which team he will choose.
Howard, who was traded from the Orlando Magic to the Los Angeles Lakers before the start of this past season, is an unrestricted free agent, able to sign with any team.
The Lakers have the ability to sign him to the largest contract, but few believe Howard’s decision will come down to that alone.
“His next deal will keep him with a team for a fairly long time, barring some sort of trade,” an Eastern Conference executive told FOX Sports Ohio. “So he’ll probably weigh that more than just money.”
Howard’s name has been linked to everyone from the Lakers to the Dallas Mavericks to the Houston Rockets to the Golden State Warriors. Reports of a potential sign-and trade that would send Howard to the Los Angeles Clippers also surfaced earlier this week.
Teams with an abundance of space under the NBA’s salary cap, such as the Cleveland Cavaliers and Phoenix Suns, are also expected to make a pitch to Howard.
Meanwhile, the Atlanta Hawks, once considered a potential Howard suitor, aren’t likely to chase the 6-foot-11 center for a variety of reasons, sources told FOX Sports Ohio on Monday. Interestingly, the Hawks reside in Howard’s hometown and with only three rotation players under contract, possess the financial resources.
Teams can begin negotiating with free agents July 1 and sign them to contracts nine days later.
Howard was the No. 1 overall draft pick by the Magic in the 2004 draft. His lone season in Los Angeles was fairly uneven, both for him and the team.
The Lakers fired coach Mike Brown after five games, later hired Mike D’Antoni. They lost star guard Kobe Bryant to a torn Achilles’ tendon and squeaked into the playoffs, where they lost four straight games to the San Antonio Spurs. In between, they were injury-prone, inconsistent and largely disappointing.
Howard’s relationships with D’Antoni and Bryant might perhaps be the biggest influences to his decision, sources said, with Bryant’s recovery also playing a role.
But unlike league MVP LeBron James, who left the Cavs for the Miami Heat in 2010, many around the league don’t expect Howard to determine a new team based solely on its ability to compete for a championship.
“I think Dwight wants to win and wants (a championship), but he comes across as a guy who would just as soon play in a situation he viewed as fun,” the executive told FOX Sports Ohio. “There’s no question about his talent. But any team that signs him has to question his commitment.”
Most other free agents won’t be courted heavily until Howard makes his decision known, according to multiple sources.
“No one will want to jeopardize a chance at Dwight, real or not, by filling up their (salary) cap before he’s signed,” said one assistant general manager. “No one will make a move until he lands.”
Where Howard might actually land, of course, remains the biggest question about this summer’s biggest prize.
• Hawks GM Danny Ferry has offered no hints about the team’s plans for free agency. “I think we’ll get through the draft and then we’ll work through the decisions that we have to make from there,” he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
• The Hawks own the Nos. 17 and 18 picks of the first round. Like the Cavs, the Hawks are highly secretive about which players they might be considering and don’t share information on prospect workouts. Word is the Hawks are eying Russian small forward Sergey Karasev and Duke center Mason Plumlee.
• With the Clippers’ potential trade for Boston Celtics forward Kevin Garnett reportedly falling apart, the team is expected to move forward with its coaching search and make a hire by week’s end. Celtics coach Doc Rivers would have been offered the Clippers job had the Garnett deal been executed.
• Multiple sources indicated that while Rivers is expected to remain with the Celtics, president of basketball operations Danny Ainge will continue to shop Garnett and forward Paul Pierce as the team aims to rebuild.