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NBA AM: What’s Next For Dwight Howard?

Is Dwight Howard going shopping in July or will the Houston Rockets pay the price to keep him? The San Antonio Spurs could be real free agent players in July too.

Steve Kyler

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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.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @eric_saar and @CodyTaylorNBA .

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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2018 NBA Draft Diary

#25 – Moritz Wagner – Los Angeles Lakers

The Los Angeles Lakers drafted Mortiz Wagner with the No. 25 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.

James Blancarte

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After acquiring a first-round pick in a mid-season trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Los Angeles Lakers drafted Michigan Center Mortiz Wagner with the 25th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.

The 6-foot-11 junior projects as a capable scoring option at the center position. Wagner can provide a lot on the offensive end as he can score down low, set screens effectively while also being able to pop out to shoot from the outside. At Michigan, Wagner put up 14.6 points, 7.1 rebounds per game while also shooting 39.4 percent from three-point range. While Wagner can shoot from distance and also can take the ball off the dribble in limited situations. While Wagner can provide value on offense and is a decent rebounder, he is not a defensive standout that can achor a team’s defense.

There had been a lot of speculation that Kevin Hueter would be available when the Lakers made their pick. Instead, Hueter is off the board and so the Lakers shift their focus to adding the talentend big man. Wagner projected as a late first round, early second round prospect that provides value on the offensive end. The Lakers currently have a strong core of talented guard and wing talent and have now bolstered their front court with Wagner.

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2018 NBA Draft Diary

#20 – Josh Okogie – Minnesota Timberwolves

David Yapkowitz

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The Minnesota Timberwolves selected Georgia Tech’s Josh Okogie with the 20th overall pick of the 2018 NBA Draft.

At the NBA level, Okogie probably projects as a shooting guard. Despite being 6-foot-4, Okogie has the physical tools and the ability to guard taller shooting guards. He was a pretty good defensive player in college and that will probably be one of his strengths in the NBA.

On the offensive end, Okogie is a good shooter. He shot 38 percent from the three-point line last season as a sophomore. An outside shooter is something the Timberwolves will definitely welcome to the rotation. In terms of the rest of his offensive game, he might struggle a bit getting his shot off over taller wing defenders in the NBA. At the college level, he was able to get to the rim and score and it will be interesting to see if that translates to the NBA.

Overall, he does project as a nice 3-and-D prospect. Defense and shooting are his strengths and lockdown defenders who can hit the three-ball are highly desired at the next level. It’s a bit difficult to imagine him getting regular rotation minutes right away for a playoff team but down the line he should emerge as a solid rotation player.

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2018 NBA Draft Diary

#19 – Kevin Huerter – Atlanta Hawks

Lang Greene

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With the No. 19 pick in the NBA draft, the Atlanta Hawks selected Kevin Huerter from the University of Maryland.

After 10 consecutive seasons reaching the playoffs, the Atlanta Hawks failed to win 25 contests in 2018. Gone are All-Stars Joe Johnson, Al Horford, Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver and Jeff Teague, each of whom the franchise groomed at various points during their decade of playoff bliss. Now the team is faced with a daunting rebuild under second year general manager Travis Schlenk and first year coach Lloyd Pierce.

Huerter becomes the first Maryland player to be selected in the first round since center Alex Len was drafted by the Phoenix Suns in 2013. Huerter was projected to be available in the 16 to 24 range and the Hawks get a 6-foot-6 shooting guard, who has the ability to spread the floor.

In two seasons at Maryland, Huerter averaged 12 points, five rebounds and three assists on 46 percent shooting from the floor. As a sophomore, Huerter connected on 73 three-pointers on a sparkling 42 percent accuracy from long range.

The Hawks have been looking for consistent production from the two guard spot ever since Tim Hardaway Jr. left the team to join the New York Knicks in free agency last summer.

Huerter will join a young Hawks core of point guard Dennis Schroder and forward John Collins, two of the team’s first round draft picks from prior years, as well as dynamic guard Trae Young, who was selected with the fifth overall pick of this year’s draft (pending the trade with the Dallas Mavericks being finalized).

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