HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Let the current Dwight Howard derby playing out in Los Angeles serve as Exhibit A for the defense. It’s talent over everything else where NBA free agency is concerned.
The same things that Howard has been bashed for the past year and half — his inability to make up his mind, a less than Dwight-like performance after back surgery, an emotional vulnerability while serving as a musclebound pinata for the pundits, etc. — are the same things that inspired the Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Golden State Warriors, Atlanta Hawks and Los Angeles Lakers to ignore the rest of the free-agent field or what it will cost them in luxury-tax penalties (in the Lakers’ case) for an all-out pursuit of Howard’s services this summer.
Howard, 27, is far from washed up and is in the midst of his physical prime. And despite opinions to the contrary (sorry, Shaquille O’Neal, but you and plenty of others are wrong on this one), Howard is still the best big man in basketball. And Howard with a chip on his shoulder, with his talent, is a player all of these teams would love to build around.
The man Shaq suggested was ready to dethrone Howard as the top big man in basketball, Andrew Bynum, didn’t play a single second in Philadelphia this season and is low on the priority list for most teams.
Al Jefferson, the only other potential All-Star-caliber center in this free-agent class, is being pursued by the Charlotte Bobcats. But not with the fervor of these teams that are chasing Howard.
Can you envision Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler, Yao Ming (via Skype), Jerry West or any of the other stars who have volunteered to help their respective teams chase Howard in free agency doing the same for Bynum or Jefferson?
That’s not to say Howard hasn’t had his issues. And he’ll have to work to rebuild his brand with fans wherever he goes. But his stock is sky-high with the folks whose professional livelihood depends on them getting this right.
Howard changes the dynamic in places like Houston, Dallas, Golden State and Atlanta. Those teams instantly move into a championship-level tax bracket with Howard as the centerpiece of their franchises. (The Lakers tried it already and barely made the playoffs.)
“Don’t let all of that chatter from the season fool you,” an Eastern Conference executive said. “Dwight was going to be the game-changer in this free-agent class no matter what. He could have sat and rested that back through All-Star weekend and he’d still command this kind of attention in free agency. There is no one else in his class as a big man when he’s right.”