NBA AM: What’s Next For Dwight Howard?


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What’s Next For Dwight Howard?

The Houston Rockets are currently 35-35 on the season with 12 more games to play. If the standings hold true, the Rockets should end up in the postseason and what was supposed to be a title contending season will at least end in another playoff run.

There is no questioning that the Rockets have regressed this year from last year, and while there have been moments when they’ve looked very good, it’s clear that this core in Houston has probably run its course.

The Rockets have kept no secret of their desire to be flexible this offseason – with dreams of landing a major star like Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant or even Memphis’ Mike Conley.

In order to get that kind of cap space, the Rockets would have to part with Dwight Howard,H who is not expected to pick-up his $23.29 million Player Option for next season, which would make him an unrestricted free agent.

Even if Howard declines his option, the Rockets will carry a $24.446 million cap hold on Howard, until they either renounce his rights, he signs a new deal in Houston worth less than that amount or he signs a new contract with another team.

Howard will enter his 12th season next year and is eligible for the next tier of maximum salary, which would be roughly 30 percent of the expected $90 million salary cap, pegging him as eligible for a first year salary north of $29.5 million.

There was no shortage of suitors for Howard at the trade deadline, with teams like Milwaukee, Charlotte and Boston logging significant interest in trading for Howard. However, all three wanted Howard to opt-in to his final contract year before parting with assets. Ultimately Howard was unwilling to do that, but understands there are teams that want him outside of the Houston situation.

For the Rockets, Howard is something of a fall- back option if they don’t get the attention of a major free agent. They can and likely would offer more money to Howard if the bigger options fall through.

From Howard’s perspective, those close to him say it’s far more likely Howard goes shopping rather than re-upping at a discount in Houston. Given Howard’s declining production in Houston and the Rockets’ desire to play more of a perimeter-oriented game, Howard may go shopping not only for a bigger payday, but a team willing to play more inside out.

The Rockets say all the right things about Howard and wanting him to remain in Houston, but the economics of the situation say it will be hard for Houston to add significant pieces without subtracting Howard’s cap hold.

As things stand, there looks to be at least 17 teams that will have a maximum salary slot, and a handful of teams could have at least two maximum salary slots. With what looks to be more than 24 max slots available in July, Howard may have more possibilities than most want to accept, mainly because there is so much salary cap money and so few impact players to give it to.

The Rockets could still be the winner in the process because of their ability to offer more money than any outside team, but it does look like Howard will be elsewhere next season. The question is: will it be a situation like Milwaukee or Boston, or will a contender a little further along turn to Howard if they miss on other free agent options?

The Spurs Could Have Space Too

Several weeks ago, the good folks at The Vertical introduced the scary concept of how the Golden State Warriors could create enough cap flexibility to go after another max contract player, specifically Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant.

With the NBA salary cap swelling by more than 20 percent this July, the Warriors won’t be the only title contender with the ability to get under the cap. The San Antonio Spurs could too.

The Warriors have the means to get to a full maximum salary slot if they can give away some contract dollars, namely that of Andre Iguodala. The Spurs can’t get a full maximum slot without giving away someone like Danny Green.

As things sit now, the Spurs could get to about $17 million without parting with their future core guys: Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Tony Parker. Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili did the Spurs a favor last season and crafted their current deals to give the Spurs flexibility; they both hold player options that they could decline and they could do that again this summer.

While the Spurs won’t likely be one of the max salary slot teams in July, they could have some significant cash to play with if they opted for it. If a major player like say a Kevin Durant wanted to be a Spur, they do have the means to get to a max slot, but it would mean basically gutting the roster. With that said, considering how willing some Spurs players have been in helping the franchise, it would be interesting to see how much the Spurs could retain while also getting to a max salary slot.

With so much cap space available this July, could the Spurs off-load Green’s contract with, say, the rookie-scale contract of Kyle Anderson to a team that might not get a free agent audience with a bigger fish?

The Spurs could end up being a free agent player too; they just are not as fun to talk about in that way as the Warriors.

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About Steve Kyler

Steve Kyler

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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