HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — We’ve read for weeks now about the pros and cons of the franchises pursuing Dwight Howard in free agency.
His best chance to win a championship is with an up-and-coming outfit in Houston or even Golden State. He can earn more money if he sticks with Los Angeles and the Lakers. He’ll be most comfortable on the court in Atlanta with the hometown Hawks. He won’t play with a better partner in crime than Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas.
All of that is just theory, blind stabs in the free-agent dark as we await Howard’s final decision on where he will commit to playing the next four or five years of his career (a revelation that could come as soon as this afternoon). You can assign different attributes to each franchise, with the Lakers’ being able to offer an extra year and that extra cash being the only static variable on the list.
But what are Howard’s real goals? What’s his true motivation for dragging the world through this exhausting process? Does he rank championships above all things? Is it his legacy, the money, reclaiming his good reputation, the fame and all of the things he’s lost since forcing his way out of Orlando and into his current predicament?
His reason for leaving the Magic kingdom created for him in Orlando, where he seemed to have absolutely everything a superstar in pursuit of the ultimate glory could ask for, was the chance to seek his championship destiny in a place of his own choosing. He’d somehow grown tired of his surroundings — the new arena, a city filled with fans who adored him and applauded his every move on and off the court. The folks inside of the Magic organization tried to move heaven and earth to appease him, they even fired coach Stan Van Gundy and general manager Otis Smith, only to find out his heart simply wasn’t in Orlando.
Howard is still searching for the right fit, for inspiration. And it’s unclear if he’s going to find what he’s looking for among his current list of suitors.
It’s hard for Howard to get any more famous (or infamous, for some) than he already is. And he didn’t need Los Angeles or the Lakers to get there. He topped the list in All-Star votes two years ago, when he was still in Orlando and All-Star weekend was in his backyard. That wasn’t enough to convince him to stay.
His quality of life wherever he goes will be high. A multi-millionaire many times over already, life tends to be good for rich folks in all of his possible destinations. (Go ahead and rank the cities in any way you want, but ask yourself where you’d like to live and work with a new $89 million to $118 million contract to work with for the next four or five years.)
If he’s concerned strictly about championships, the Lakers are the one franchise on his list with a sustained history of not only competing for but winning championships. Would he have to play under a coach (Mike D’Antoni) he doesn’t vibe with and with another star (Kobe Bryant) who scolds him more than he’d like? Sure. But he wouldn’t be the first superstar to work under those sort of conditions. Besides, a little bit of external pressure might be good for Howard. It might push him in ways that no coach or teammates have previously.
The possibilities of Howard teaming up with James Harden and coach Kevin McHale in Houston or with Steph Curry and coach Mark Jackson in Oakland are endless. With two stars and a coach the caliber both of those options bring, with only the supporting cast needing to be sorted out, big things would certainly appear to be on the horizon. If the Rockets were to land Howard and his pre-school classmate, Josh Smith, that would instantly vault the Rockets into the championship conversation in the Western Conference. But neither franchise has sniffed championship-level play in the past decade. So any gamble Howard makes on either one of these options is little more than playing a hunch that things will turn out well because they look good on paper … the same way they did last summer when the Lakers started planning parades after snagging Howard and Steve Nash.
Teaming up with Nowitzki in Dallas makes all kinds of sense, if you’re the Mavericks. Dirk is still in top form at this stage of his career and has thrived with a dominant defensive big man (Tyson Chandler) and a solid supporting cast around him. The Mavericks have also stared down the reigning league kingpins in Miami, having beaten back LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Miami Heat in The Finals in 2011. If a championship blueprint is what Howard is looking for, the Mavericks have the freshest one.
Howard’s hometown team has little to offer in the way of championship culture or infrastructure. They barely have enough players under contract right now to field a 3-on-3 team. So the appeal there would have to be strictly emotional and hinge on Howard being instrumental in helping craft the Hawks’ championship plans.
So in the end, we come right back to that same vexing question that has hung over Howard for the last 18 months.
What’s his motivation?
We won’t know the real answer until he makes his choice … which could be any minute now.