Dwight Howard can opt-out of Orlando after next season. Orlando has worked hard to keep the best center in the league happy, but the consensus among NBA writers we read is that Howard will be headed to free agency next summer. Which teams have gotten in the best position to land Howard?
Boston Celtics: Allen and Garnett come off the books in 2012. By trading Kendrick Perkins yesterday, it looks as if Boston will go with center-by-committee next year. They’ll have to building blocks in Rondo (a top 5 point guard) and Pierce (who will be past his prime).
LA Lakers: They’ll need a star to replace Kobe. LA’s bargaining chip is Andrew Bynum, who is younger than Howard, and also significantly more injury prone. Or, they could just wait for Howard to become a free agent and then sign him like they did with Shaq about a decade ago. The Lakers seem to be the most popular “guess” of where Howard will wind up. It seems unlikely Howard would go there … unless the Lakers can land Chris Paul. Trade Bynum for CP3, then grab Howard in free agency?
New Jersey Nets: Seemed unfathomable a few days ago, but then they traded for Deron Williams. And while the Celtics and Lakers can sell history and passionate fan bases, the Nets can sell Williams and Brook Lopez, which probably will be the best foundation of any teams going after Howard.
Houston Rockets: They’ve got the picks and the team option on three players (Thabeet, Jordan Hill, Terrence Williams) to try and swing a deal. Luis Scola would be a nice fit next to Howard. A lot could hinge upon the growth of new point guard Goran Dragic. At this stage, probably a longshot. But Morey excels at clearing cap room, so he’s got another season to make room for Howard.
LA Clippers: It’s a pipe dream that they could possibly pair Dwight Howard and Blake Griffin … but Kaman and Foye are under contract for one more year, and one would assume the Paper Clips can find a taker for Mo Williams’ expiring contract while sliding Eric Bledsoe to point guard.
I’ve been thinking of a scenario where the Magic can keep Howard, but GM Otis Smith is handcuffed by bad, long-term deals (then again, he did find a taker for the Rashard Lewis deal). The only way Smith has a good selling point to Howard is if Arenas, Richardson, Turkoglu, etc get hot in the playoffs and carry the Magic to the Finals. Right now, that seems unlikely.