HANG TIME, Texas — If the reports are true that the Rockets and the Mavericks are currently frontrunners in the Dwight Howard Sweepstakes, the race was more tortoise than hare on draft night with neither team opening any daylight.
After a week of speculation that they were trying to deal forward Thomas Robinson to clear salary cap space to make a maximum contract offer to Howard, the Rockets spent the night taking and making phone calls from around the league, but then settled on Isaiah Canaan with the 34th pick.
The talk all along was that the Rockets could get more in return for Robinson before or during the draft. But the team may have ultimately decided there was no reason to rush and trade away a young player who was the No. 5 pick in last year’s draft until they know for sure that it is necessary. In other words, if Howard is coming aboard, Robinson can be shipped out in a heartbeat.
Meanwhile the Mavericks traded down in the first round, dropping from 13th to 18th and came away with point guard Shane Larkin after dealing with Boston and Atlanta.
By moving down in the draft and moving last year’s top pick Jared Cunningham, Dallas will save $1.09 million in rookie scale salary for cap space to pursue Howard, while also adding a young point guard whom they believe could become a valuable part of rebuilding the team down the line. Of course, if Larkin’s $1.28 million first-year salary is needed to clear space for Howard, he should be easy enough for the Mavs to move.
Draft night was just a prelim on the undercard in the heavyweight intra-Texas battle that could take place if Howard does decide to bolt from the Lakers. All we saw were jabs. The haymakers before Howard’s July 10 big decision are still to come.