Is Atlanta targeting Dwight Howard?

Is this the next superstar pairing? (Getty Images)

The Nets wanted Dwight Howard. But they were tired of chasing after him and had little to interest the Magic, so instead they went and got Joe Johnson, taking his massive salary out of Atlanta and into Brooklyn. The Hawks then dumped Marin Williams to the Jazz for Devin Harris, clearing up more space. Jordan Farmar, acquired in the Nets trade, will be bought out, clearing over $2 million more. 

So they've cleared the table, created a blank slate. They'll start the slow, torturous rebuilding process now, right? 

Maybe not. 

From ESPN: 

The Hawks have thus quickly emerged as a potential destination for Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard, who grew up in the Atlanta area and is close friends with Hawks swingman Josh Smith. Howard is also close with Anthony Morrow, one of five players that the Hawks will acquire from the Brooklyn Nets in their pending trade with the Nets for Johnson.

Although Howard has previously shown little interest in playing for his hometown Hawks, Ferry still has a key piece or to offer Orlando in trade proposals for Howard in All-Star center Al Horford and young guard Jeff Teague, as well as the forthcoming salary-cap space to pursue Howard in the summer of 2013 should Orlando resist the trade inquiries sources say he'll soon be making and Howard indeed makes it to free agency as scheduled.

via Atlanta Hawks trade Marvin Williams to Utah Jazz for Devin Harris, according to sources - ESPN.

Is this pie-in-the-sky visions or an acutal plan by Ferry? Probably a little of both.

The Hawks are prepping for a position to take on a max contract for a star. They've cleared out the biggest anchor around their necks in Joe Johnson and taken the annoying hindrance in Williams off the books. They're in a position to start fresh. Which also means that they're in a position to aim big. 

The Hawks, as opposed to the Nets, actually have good players to send to the Magic. They have their first-rounders. They have All-Star Al Horford. They have an exciting young point guard Jeff Teague. They have expiring contracts. They have the money, the players, the picks. And if nothing else, they can wait a year and make a swing in free agency in 2013. 

Howard is from Atlanta. But does he want to go back? He went to high school with Josh Smith, but are he and Smith still close enough to warrant that pairing? Will the Hawks have enough left over to field a competitive team, even with Smith and Howard? There are a lot of questions, but it's a suddenly bold approach for a team that has been mired in mediocrity for years. 

Howard has repeatedly tried to exert his control in regards to his future. He's tried to say over and over that he wouldn't re-sign with any team but the one he wants to go to. The reason? He doesn't want to lose the extra year with his Bird rights. But that was when the Nets were an option. They may no longer be. 

ESPN even speculates that Chris Paul could be involved in the long-term plan. Let's not even go there, yet. 

A new powerhouse in Atlanta? 

Don't blink in this NBA free agency, you're going to miss something big. For once, the Hawks are through aiming small. 

CBS Sports Writer

Matt Moore's colleagues have been known to describe him as a "maniac" in terms of his approach to covering the NBA, which he has done for CBS Sports since 2010. Moore prides himself on melding reporting,... Full Bio

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