From NBA.com staff reports
The list of favorites, in the minds of those closely following the Dwight Howard free-agency saga, had the Rockets and Lakers at the head of the pack with the Warriors, Mavs and Hawks (in an order of your choosing) behind them. Yet the Dwight situation remains as fluid as ever and scenarios and teams are leapfrogging each other as we speak.
According to a report from ESPN.com’s Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst, Golden State has put on a frantic late press to try and pick up Howard by attempting to jettison bulky contracts and clearing cap space for him. In order to afford such a deal, the Warriors have been calling teams with cap space to try and work out trades for the large, expiring deals of Andrew Bogut ($14 million), Andris Biedrins ($9 million) and Richard Jefferson ($11 million):
The Golden State Warriors, increasingly convinced they have a legitimate shot at winning the Dwight Howard sweepstakes, have begun aggressively attempting to trade away players to clear the requisite salary-cap space to sign the All-Star center, according to sources with knowledge of the team’s thinking.
The Warriors were one of five teams granted the opportunity to recruit Howard in an in-person meeting this week. ESPN.com reported Wednesday that, in perhaps the first surprising development in the wake of those meetings, Warriors officials “made an impression” on Howard to the point that they had gained ground on the two teams — the Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks — widely presumed to have the only legitimate shot at stealing Howard away from the Lakers.
The Lakers have been adamant for weeks they would prefer to let Howard leave for nothing and bank the resultant salary-cap space in the summer of 2014, with many rival executives likewise convinced that L.A. would have real reservations about helping Howard land with a division rival. So sources say that the Warriors, in an effort to manufacture some financial flexibility to help their chances, have begun calling teams with salary-cap space to try to entice them to take expiring contracts off their books so they can clear a $20 million hole for Howard.
The Warriors have three huge expiring contracts … According to sources, they have tried to unload all three players this week to teams with cap room. Yet, Golden State likely would have to be willing to add assets to any potential deals to get teams interested. Sources say the Warriors have been willing to attach a future first-round pick to move one of their bad contracts since last February’s trade deadline, but potential partners tend to ask for prized youngsters such as Harrison Barnes or Klay Thompson – two of the more attractive young players in the league — when the subject of absorbing one of the Warriors’ big contracts is broached.
So Dwight may end up in Golden State (maybe) if the Warriors can clear enough cap space … no big deal. At least the Lakers are holding fast to their stance that sign-and-trade offers for Howard won’t be accepted … right? According to Stein and ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelbourne, that thinking is changing as well as the Lakers are perhaps more open to sign-and-trade deals than ever before:
For months, Lakers officials have privately indicated they have no interest in taking back long-term contracts in a sign-and-trade for Howard, preferring to preserve their salary-cap space for the summer of 2014 and focus on slashing their luxury-tax bill for the coming season.
The Lakers’ ultimate preference, of course, remains to re-sign Howard. Yet, after team sources initially indicated the Lakers were feeling better about their chances after their face-to-face meeting with Howard on Tuesday than they did coming into it, pessimism began to creep back in Thursday, stemming mostly from ongoing questions outside and inside team headquarters about Howard’s ability and willingness to co-exist alongside Kobe Bryant and play for coach Mike D’Antoni.
Three executives with rival teams, furthermore, told ESPN.com on Thursday that they likewise see Golden State as capable of trading away Bogut, Jefferson and Biedrins, if necessary, as long as the Warriors are willing to attach assets to the respective deals that help the cap-room teams taking on those three contracts to either come away with good young talent or improve their prospects for the 2014 NBA draft that has teams leaguewide so excited.
If Howard were to choose Houston or Golden State, sign-and-trade discussions inevitably will be proposed by the team that lands Howard. And there were signals Thursday night that, in the case of Golden State, L.A. would have to at least consider a swap if either Harrison Barnes or Klay Thompson is added to the proposal along with Bogut.
Before Golden State fans get too excited about the possibility of “Superman” soaring around The Oracle next season, it’s important to note that the favorites in this race — Houston and the Lakers — still remain at the front of the pack:
Sources say the bigger threats to the Lakers, though, still appear to be Houston and Dallas unless Golden State can address its financial limitations. The Rockets offer the immediate lure of playing alongside James Harden and a promise from Houston’s front office to keep adding championship-level talent, whereas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is urging Howard to join proven ring winners in Dirk Nowitzki and coach Rick Carlisle — with Nowitzki also vowing to take a significant pay cut in the summer of 2014 that creates the needed salary-cap space for the Mavs to sign another star.
And as Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times wisely points out, whoever Howard doesn’t choose — be it the Lakers, Hawks, Mavs, Warriors or Rockets — will have some tough decisions to make this summer:
If Howard turns his back on the Lakers, next season is punted into the abyss. Pau Gasol gets a reprieve for the umpteenth time, but Metta World Peace probably is waived via the amnesty provision, and the Lakers’ opening-night lineup looks something like Gasol, Jordan Hill, Steve Nash and Steve Blake.
If Howard bolts, the Lakers are seriously considering a clampdown on spending in order to get under the luxury tax next season and also avoid the dreaded “repeater tax,” which heavily penalizes teams if they are over the tax threshold three times in a five-year span, starting next season.
The repeater tax would be on top of the soon-to-be-more-severe luxury tax, which kicks into effect next season.
If the Dallas Mavericks don’t get Howard, they’re floating in a boat somewhere near the Lakers. They also have an aging roster but, unlike the Lakers, are far enough under the salary cap to pursue whatever big-ticket names are left in this summer’s free-agent pond.
Houston doesn’t have to change much if it loses out on Howard, but the Rockets would look a little foolish for waiving serviceable veterans Carlos Delfino and Aaron Brooks, not to mention trading young forward Thomas Robinson, all to make room for Howard.
Ditto for Golden State, which is reportedly trying to unload veterans Andrew Bogut, Richard Jefferson and Andris Biedrins to clear cap space and sign Howard. If they can’t find any takers, they’ll have to do a sign-and-trade with the Lakers for Howard, an unlikely event because the Lakers don’t want to take back any salaries in exchange for Howard.
More than half of Atlanta’s team became free agents July 1, so the Hawks will have to hustle when Howard doesn’t pick them.