While Dwight Howard is swept up in the world of billboards, celebrity meetings and Slim Thug endorsements, we here at NumberFire are focusing on other things, like what the best fit for Howard might be. The teams with a realistic shot of landing him are the Lakers, Rockets, Mavericks, Warriors and Hawks.
Which of these teams would actually have the best record with the addition of this year’s prize free agent? (Note: Nothing he’s done in his career suggests Howard cares about the quality of his team.) We used our calculations for Howard’s wins added plus the rosters of each of his potential landing spots to find out.
Los Angeles Lakers
As Howard’s incumbent team, the Lakers hold the distinct advantage of being able to offer Howard nearly $30 million more than any other team. That’s not for nothing, plus the television and marketing opportunities in L.A. will be unrivaled.
Unfortunately, the Lakers offer the worst basketball fit for Howard. If he returns, our projections have the team pegged for just a 42-40 record, three games worse than last season’s mark and the worst projected record of any of Howard’s potential destinations.
Between Steve Nash's increasing slide down the aging curve, Kobe Bryant's Achilles injury that will force him to miss a chunk of the year, and the fact that Pau Gasol plays the same position as Howard, the Lakers would seem to be the worst possible destination for the free agent center, at least for next season. Plus, L.A. is hopelessly capped out, which is why they can only target the likes of Byron Mullens this offseason. Good luck selling Howard on that team.
Dallas has enough cap room to sign Howard outright to a max contract and could pair him with Dirk Nowitzki, whose talents complement Howard’s much better than anyone on the Lakers. However, if they did manage to sign Howard, the Mavs would be up against the cap line with only Howard, Nowitzki, Shawn Marion, Vince Carter, and Jae Crowder on board as impact players. That’s not exactly a deep team.
Therefore, our projections peg the Mavericks as a 45-37 team next year with Howard. That might be a 7 or 8 seed in the West, which is exactly the type of team Howard had the (dis)pleasure of playing for this past season.
Of course, the allure of Dallas is a longer-term building project. Nowitzki’s massive contract is up after this year, and he’s already said he’d be willing to take a pay cut in order to grab another star. Marion and Carter’s contracts are expiring, which should free up plenty more room. And Dallas might be able to flip free agent guard O.J. Mayo for an asset in a sign-and-trade. But if Howard just wants to win now after enduring all the criticism of the last two years, Dallas might not be the best option.
The Hawks are tough to project, since they are such a blank canvas. They alone can offer Howard and another player max contracts, as they only have about $20 million in guaranteed money on the roster. The only real impact players currently on the team are Al Horford, Lou Williams and restricted free agent Jeff Teague.
Our system projects a 46-36 record for the Hawks with Howard, but that’s based largely on last year’s team, which will likely have little resemblance to this year’s squad. If the Hawks could sign Howard plus another big name free agent, that number could go even higher. But who would that be? Josh Smith? A Smith-Horford-Howard frontcourt would be where spacing goes to die.
Of his five suitors, Atlanta seems the least likely to land Howard and they are the toughest to project.
The Rockets reportedly have emerged as the frontrunners in the Dwight sweepstakes. They have another superstar in James Harden, excellent complementary pieces, and no state income tax, which everyone seems to think is important.
If Howard signs with the Rockets, we project them for a 47-35 record, although that does not take into account the rest of free agency, where Houston could be active, especially if they sign Jeremy Lin or Omer Asik back to L.A. in a sign-and-trade.
Of the front-runners (Houston and L.A.), the Rockets offer the most promising basketball situation right away.
Golden State Warriors
And then there are the Warriors. Golden State emerged late in the Howard sweepstakes since they never carved out any cap room for this summer, but it looks like they could be a logical trade partner in a sign-and-trade scenario. Golden State is supposedly willing to give up Andrew Bogut and either Klay Thompson or Harrison Barnes to acquire Howard.
We project Golden State to finish 53-29 if they trade Thompson and Bogut for Howard. We were not as high on Thompson as many others this past season, and had him pegged at a -3.7 nERD score. Flipping him for an asset of high value, like Howard, shoots the Warriors way up in our projections. Howard and Steph Curry would instantly become the best inside-out combination in the league. Although they are a long shot to land him, Golden State might be Howard’s best destination if he wants to win games.