HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — At least we have a date now.
July 10, nine days after the NBA’s free agency free-for-all begins and the day the league’s moratorium on players signing new contracts is lifted, we should know exactly where Dwight Howard is headed.
The Los Angeles Lakers’ All-Star center, the top free agent target of the summer, will have his process wrapped up and a decision made between suitors that include the Lakers, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Atlanta Hawks and others, per Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com:
A source close to the All-Star center told ESPNLosAngeles.com that Howard expects to be ready to choose his team as soon as the NBA’s moratorium on new business is lifted July 10.
That information jibed with [Lakers GM Mitch] Kupchak‘s thinking.
“It’s in everybody’s best interest, I think, to proceed in a timely fashion,” he said. “I don’t think it’s Dwight’s goal to drag it out. Whether he’s with us or with another team, everybody this time of year has business to take care of. If he’s here, he wants us to know that so we can build around him in this period of free agency, when it moves very quickly, and if he’s with somebody else, that team is going to want the same thing.
“If you’re Dwight, you would want the same thing as well. You would want to give your team notice as quick as possible so they can make the changes that they need to make to make your team more effective. So I think it’s in everybody’s best interest to move as quick as possible.”
Rumblings that Howard is not likely to return to the Lakers will no doubt intensify as he entertains his other suitors, but Kupchak does not sound like a man who is ready to surrender.
In fact, he’s seems far more confident than you’d expect, given the trail of crumbs that suggest Howard isn’t particularly fond of Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni and the way he was used in conjunction with Lakers’ stars Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol during the team’s tumultuous 2012-13 season.
But you’d be confident, too, with a $30 million card in your hand that no one else can play. Kupchak told ESPNLosAngeles.com that the team will continue their measured pursuit, which includes strategically placed billboards around the city encouraging Howard to stick around, in the days and hours leading up to the July 1 open of free agency:
“I don’t think anything dramatic is going to take place on June 30 at 9:01 [p.m. PT] regarding Dwight,” Kupchak said. “My understanding is there are several other teams that have great interest and he’s going to have a process that I understand to be pretty deliberate that he’s going to go through, and we’ll be involved in that process and we’ll see how it plays out.”
Howard has already received some backlash from Lakers fans who have taken a good-riddance attitude, but Kupchak said he believes that will change. Howard has already received some backlash from Lakers fans who have taken a good-riddance attitude, but Kupchak said he believes that will change.
“I’m not worried about that,” he said. “Kobe’s been back for seven or eight years now. What did people think about him? There was a period where Kobe was earning his stripes in Los Angeles. I think when he came back, he had to continue. Here it is, seven, eight or nine years later, and I think that’s what would happen with Dwight once he puts his roots down and says, ‘This is the place I want to be.’
“I think that’s part of the problem. I think the city feels they were renting him for a year. But the reality is he couldn’t sign an extension. Financially, the rules provide that he wait until July 1 to get the best deal he could possibly get. It was one of those situations where please tell us you want to be here and please show us you want to be here. But he can’t do it until July 1. I think that’s part of it. Of course the way the season went didn’t help things either.”
With the clock formally ticking for Howard’s services, you can bet the teams interested in moving him out of California will do what they can to sway him. This is already true for the Mavericks, whose superstar, Dirk Nowitzki, has talked with Howard on his own volition to gauge Howard’s interest, writes Dwain Price of the Star-Telegram:
On Monday, Howard will become one of the most coveted unrestricted free agents in NBA history. And the Mavs want to make him their new franchise player and turn their current franchise player, Nowitzki, into their No. 2 option.
It’s a philosophy Nowitzki, who turned 35 last week, has easily bought into. That’s why he’s already had a conversation with Howard about a union in Dallas.
“I reached out to him and told him we’d love to have him,” Nowitzki said. “It’s not like we call each other every day.
“I didn’t write him a letter. We just had a little phone contact. That’s about it.”
With Howard patrolling the middle for the Mavs, Nowitzki knows he would have an excellent shot at winning another NBA championship before he retires.
“To me, when he’s healthy he’s the most dominant big man in the league,” Nowitzki said of Howard. “He’s shown that at the end of the season when he was right what he can still do.
“He can dominate on both ends of the floor if he feels healthy, he can still use his athleticism. He’s a beast on both ends of the floor.”
“He’s the kind of guy you can just get the ball to in the post, and I’ll just spread the floor,” Nowitzki said. “On the defensive end, he’s a guy that can protect the rim and a guy that’s obviously a luxury.
“We’d love to have him, but so would all of the other teams with cap room. I’ll just wait and see what happens.”
The next 12 days should be an interesting ride for all involved, especially for the Lakers and their fans!