The Houston Rockets made their pitch to free-agent center Dwight Howard on Monday. They took Hall of Famers Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon with them, and also brought in Yao Ming via Skype.
But by bringing in a player of Olajuwon’s ilk, the Rockets are basically reminding Howard of what he’ll never be. There’s as much chance of Howard developing a “dream shake” as there is him shooting above 60 percent at the free-throw line.
And Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban had to laugh out loud at the prospect of the Rockets telling Howard he could own the basketball market in China. Call me crazy, but I always thought being Chinese helped Yao’s cause in that part of the world. It’s not like folks are going to suddenly embrace Howard just because he joins Yao’s former team.
But that’s enough about the Rockets, a team that will play second-fiddle to the Mavs and Lakers in this high-stakes showdown. The Mavs have been furiously working to put a Plan B in place in case Howard decides to remain with the Lakers. And you probably heard by now that Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo is at the top of that backup plan wish list. ESPN’s Marc Stein pretty much shot down that idea when he reported that Danny Ainge would be looking for Dirk Nowitzki in return for Rondo. That’s probably Ainge’s way of saying the Mavs don’t have what the Celtics are looking for.
But just to play out the Rondo scenario, it’s likely the Mavs would have to take back Brandon Bass, Courtney Lee and perhaps Gerald Wallace (once he officially becomes a Celtic). That’s roughly $60 million worth of contracts over the next three years the Mavs would be taking on to land the Celtics’ enigmatic point guard. In other words, it’s not happening.
The Mavs reportedly checked in with Andrew Bynum’s agent in the wee hours of Monday morning, but that’s Plan D territory. Bynum’s an incredibly productive player when healthy, but he missed all 82 games last season with the Sixers because of injured knees. His agent says he’ll be 100 percent for training camp, but then again agents seem to be pretty optimistic this time of year.
The problem with the Mavs’ “big-fish” plan that was put in place in the aftermath of their 2011 NBA title is that anything less than signing players such as Deron Williams or Howard feels like a complete failure. Cuban and Donnie Nelson are resourceful enough to put a decent roster together without Howard, but there will be zero hope of an NBA title. And by the time the Mavs actually land one of the big fish, Nowitzki will be ready for retirement.
Landing Howard wouldn’t guarantee anything for the Mavs, but it would be a victory for their questionable strategy. And the presence of Rick Carlisle actually gives Howard a better chance to succeed than what he’ll experience with the Lakers and Rockets. I believe that Howard’s ultimate goal was to force the Lakers into a sign-and-trade with the Clippers so that he could be paired with Chris Paul.
But it’s far more likely that he’ll be swayed by whatever pitch the Lakers make Tuesday. I would fully expect Magic and Kareem to be front and center. And it’s already been reported that Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant will attend the meeting. Perhaps Bryant learned some lessons from his breakup with Shaq that will help him convince Howard to stay. OK, I’m probably going too far with that point.
Strip away all the pomp and circumstance and you will see a showdown between Mark “Shark Tank” Cuban and Hollywood. And though Dallas might provide a better basketball situation, Howard will have trouble saying no to Southern California.
Come to think of it, I’d get back to work on that Plan B if I were the Mavs.