Well, it's almost official. Dwight Howard will be a free agency on July 1.
Howard had been expected to opt out of the final year of his contract for some time given his disappearing role with the Rockets, his chemistry with James Harden and the potential for a huge payday in this summer's big-money, low-options market. But he had insisted no decision had been made in recent media appearances.
However, the Vertical reported Tuesday that Howard has indeed opted out and will be an unrestricted free agent.
Howard going somewhere else makes sense. He didn't get along with Harden, and the team hurt his feelings, Howard said, by asking him to take a lesser role. The Rockets are reshaping themselves with new coach Mike D'Antoni, who Howard never got along with in Los Angeles. In short, the writing for this decision was on the wall months ago.
So where does Howard go?
Any team taking him on has to realize that he is a 30-year old who has had knee, shoulder and back surgeries in the past three years, and just logged the lowest points-per-game mark of his career (though a tremendous, career-high .620 field goal percentage). He still can't hit free throws, wants the ball in the post where he's not nearly as good in pick and rolls, and comes with a goofball attitude that he simply cannot change (nor, really should he.)
There's a lot to weigh there.
But you're also getting a veteran center who can still play elite level defense when his perimeter containment guys aren't constantly falling down and making the wrong decisions like badly-designed A.I. bad guys in a cheap video game. He's a monster athletically, despite the injuries, and a hard worker. He has shown a lot of maturity over the past two years he doesn't get credit for and still wants to help a team win.
The money will be the issue. If Howard wants a max, no team should sign him. Again, if Dwight Howard says he'll only sign for a max contract, every team should walk. But if you can get him for a reasonable price, here are six teams that should take a look.
Charlotte Hornets: Steve Clifford has built one of the best teams at defending the interior over the past three seasons without a rim protector. Imagine what he would do with Howard. Charlotte also fits the tiers of teams who need a name like Howard and can justify paying for it. One hangup? Adding Howard could restrict their ability to return all the great shooting they had this season, as many of those players are free agents.
Brooklyn Nets: The Nets wanted Howard when he was in Orlando and the two sides tried desperately to get a deal done but the Magic (rightfully) wanted nothing to do with the Nets' trash at the time. Now, though, they're bare bones. They have Brook Lopez, sure. But you can play them together in a big combo and if you get worked on the perimeter, you punish them inside. It also opens up the possibility of trading Lopez, which is the only asset Brooklyn has that could really reset its roster back to "decent." The Nets could overpay for Howard on a short-term deal just to make themselves respectable, since they have no picks to save.
Chicago Bulls: They have cap space and a need at center. The odds of Howard getting along with Jimmy Butler remarkably better than with Harden are not great, but it might be worth a shot. It's a veteran center replacement that bolsters them inside while adding a big name. The Bulls have the money and a need for what Howard brings, but this better be a sweetheart deal for them.
Orlando Magic: All reports are that this is highly unlikely but I will not give up the dream. It makes too much sense. With Frank Vogel, Howard fits perfectly into the scheme. He gets to repair all the damage he did when he left, and the Magic are set to be big spenders with little to offer potential free agents. This would be a really good story, unless the Magic sign him to a four-year max.
New Orleans Pelicans: The Pelicans have to clear a lot of cap room, but putting Howard next to Anthony Davis could be a great combination. Howard could help teach Davis about rotations and provide the size anchor that Davis needs with how often he's injured trying to play center. Howard going to a team with good talent in need of a good piece makes sense. However, Alvin Gentry's up-and-down style (which he in part modeled after D'Antoni' system) is not an ideal fit.
Dallas Mavericks: The Mavericks are often listed as the natural fit for Howard. Dirk Nowitzki needs a physical center next to him, the Mavericks have cap space and playoff goals, and Dallas has had their eye on Howard going back to his Orlando days. But the Mavericks have made it clear that they're not going to max him. They won't sacrifice future flexibility just to get Howard at this point. Still, Howard and Chandler Parsons are close, and they could wind up being a package deal for the Mavs.