From NBA.com staff reports
Two days, five teams, five meetings and lots of information to parse. And that’s just for those of us who are following this where-will-Dwight-Howard-land saga.
After the last two potential suitors (the Dallas Mavericks and the incumbent L.A. Lakers) made their sales pitches to the free-agent center yesterday, it’s now up to Howard to sit back, think over the options — Lakers, Mavs, Houston Rockets, Atlanta Hawks and Golden State Warriors — and reveal his decision (hopefully by July 10).
As with any free agent (and especially so with Dwight), what he does affects more than just him and his current team. Our David Aldridge reports that Howard’s next move is shaping much of what might happen to his childhood friend and former AAU teammate, Hawks star Josh Smith:
Howard completed his meetings with the Mavericks and Lakers Tuesday, the fourth and fifth teams he was scheduled to see before deciding where he will play next season.
Kobe Bryant, according to a source, pointed out that while the Rockets brought Hall of Fame center Hakeem Olajuwon with them to their meeting with Howard Sunday night, and that Yao Ming made a pitch on Houston’s behalf via Skype, “there wasn’t a room big enough” to hold all of the great players who had worn the Lakers’ uniform.
Meanwhile, Smith also finished his meetings with his perspective suitors — most of whom are the same teams that are going after Howard. The Pistons have made a strong impression on Smith, according to a source, but he is still open to several other teams — including Houston and Atlanta. He is less interested in the Sacramento Kings, who made their own move Tuesday night toward securing a forward by making a four-year, $56 million offer to Denver All-Star Andre Iguodala.
Iguodala is contemplating the Kings’ offer after having, according to a source, “great meetings” with the Hawks, Rockets, Warriors and Pistons.
The Rockets want both Howard and Smith, who played together in Atlanta for the AAU Atlanta Celtics and have remained friends. However, Smith will not necessarily wait for Howard’s decision before he makes up his own mind.
And what of Howard’s fateful meetings yesterday with the Mavs and Lakers? Dave McMenamin from ESPNLosAngeles.com has details on what happened in Lakerland yesterday, where Howard and his agents, Dan Fegan and Happy Walters, met with several Lakers big shots (including VP of business operations Tim Harris, GM Mitch Kupchak, executive vice president of player personnel Jim Buss, Bryant, Steve Nash and coach Mike D’Antoni):
The Lakers met in separate groups with Howard: Harris and the representatives from Time Warner Cable and AEG; Kupchak and Buss; and Nash, D’Antoni and Bryant.
The coach and players met with him together and had an “honest” discussion about several issues the team dealt with last season. Their message to him was simple: If you want to win championships, stay in L.A. and try to win with players like us who have won before. Let’s try it again when all of us — including Howard, who was recovering from back surgery most of the season — are healthier.
Howard repeatedly stressed that all he cares about is winning, and that would be the chief factor in his decision.
A separate source close to Howard with knowledge of the meeting said “the Lakers were good.”
Some of the Lakers that were doing the pitching had more to say.
“I thought it was a very productive meeting,” Nash told reporters, including ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Ramona Shelburne after the sit-down had adjourned. “We talked about last year and how it can be built on. I think a lot of the excitement of last year never came true, so it was unfinished. We want to find a way to get him back, regroup, retool and make it happen.”
According to a source familiar with the Lakers, their strategy was, “focusing on the present and the future.”
There was also a video element to the presentation that included cameos by various Hollywood celebrities and entertainers and the Lakers also presented Howard with an iPad featuring images of him wearing purple and gold, for good measure.
“We’ve been working on this presentation for dozens and dozens of hours over the course of weeks,” said a team source. “We prepared for it in depth.”
D’Antoni had a positive outlook.
“Yes, I’m hopeful,” D’Antoni told ESPN’s Shelley Smith as he exited with Nash. “We all are. We made our presentation. Dwight has to make his choice and we just hope it’s us.”
Added D’Antoni: “Dwight will make his decision, but hopefully it’s the Lakers.”
As for the Howard-Mavs meeting, Dallas remains hopeful. The Mavs are considered to be longshots (like the Hawks and Warriors) at landing Howard. But Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that Mavs owner Mark Cuban is banking on his relationship with Fegan to give him an edge in any deal for Howard:
The Dallas Mavericks were all giddy Tuesday and bracing for some good news after completing their presentation to Los Angeles Lakers free agent center Dwight Howard in Beverly Hills.
Owner Mark Cuban, coach Rick Carlisle, forward Dirk Nowitzki, president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson, head athletic trainer Casey Smith and director of analytics Roland Beech all attended the meeting. The contingent was hoping to show Howard all the reasons why he should continue his basketball career in Dallas and sign a four-year, maxed-out $88 million contract with the Mavs.
The Mavs believe Howard, 27, is the one player who can quickly get them back in the NBA championship picture and help them win another title or two before the 35-year old Nowitzki retires. Howard has struggled with shoulder injuries the past two seasons but has proved that he’s the game’s best big man when he’s healthy.
That’s why Howard is the key to what can be a very successful off-season for the Mavs. His acquisition would have some extreme long-term positive ramifications.
While reports consistently have indicated that the Rockets and Lakers have a better chance at landing Howard than the Mavs, it must be remembered that Cuban has a close and friendly relationship with Dan Fegan, Howard’s agent. The Mavs are counting on that relationship being the tipping point that will land Howard in Dallas.
Much like the Superman moniker he has been given, Howard is flying off to his own Fortress of Solitude for the Fourth of July to ponder this information (and more) to come up with a long-awaited decision. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reports that Howard could reveal his choice as soon as Friday … or it could be next week, too:
In the hours after Dwight Howard listened to the final pledges and pitches out of Kobe Bryant and Mitch Kupchak, Dirk Nowitzki and Mark Cuban, the most recruited basketball star on the planet promises to be 30,000 feet in the air, flying to a retreat outside California to consider the possibilities of his free-agent decision.
The Rockets remain frontrunners for Howard, but Howard is still giving consideration to remaining with the Los Angeles Lakers, sources said.
”The Rockets have put themselves in position to pull this off,” one source with knowledge of Howard’s decision-making process said. “If he wants to win right now – and be set up to keep winning – it’s hard to make a case for anyone but Houston.”
Howard planned to climb aboard a private plane with his representatives in the Relativity Sports Group – Dan Fegan and Happy Walters – and leave Los Angeles for the solitude of the outdoors these next few days, sources told Y! Sports.
There could be a decision by Friday, or perhaps Howard could let it bleed into the weekend. Whatever he chooses promises to have an immense impact on the NBA – from the glorious Lakers franchise, to the final years of Kobe Bryant’s career, to the transformation of the Rockets into an NBA power again.
The meetings are over and the sales pitches are done. Now it’s up to Howard to think things through, make his decision and move along.