When Dwight Howard was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers in the offseason, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that he’d sign a new contract with L.A. in the summer of 2013.
The All-Star center is set to be a free agent at the end of the season. He will be seeking a maximum-salary contract, and only a handful of NBA teams will be able to offer Howard such a deal. Los Angeles will be able to give him the largest contract, worth approximately $20 million more than any other club’s proposed deal.
Despite the leverage the Lakers hold, there seems to be an increasing chance that Howard will leave Los Angeles as a free agent. L.A. may not prove to be the best place for Howard to win his first ever championship. The Lakers have struggled this season, and sit 3.5 games out of the eighth and final playoff spot.
If the three-time Defensive Player of the Year wants to test the free agent market, he’ll have a few options.
The Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets will likely have enough room under the salary cap to sign Howard. The Atlanta Hawks could also have a chance of landing Howard.
ESPN’s Chris Broussard recently cited sources that said Howard has little interest in playing in Atlanta. However, the big man might not have a better option if he decides to leave L.A.
More than half of the Hawks roster will no longer be under contract next season, freeing up the team to make moves in free agency. Howard will be the most sought after player available, but Atlanta will be one of the few teams that can actually sign him under the salary cap rules.
In theory, Atlanta might be the most ideal destination for the center. The club has been competitive over the past several years, reaching the playoffs in five straight seasons. Even after trading Joe Johnson in the offseason, the Hawks are 29-22 and on the verge of another postseason appearance.
Howard was born in Atlanta, so he might consider returning home to play basketball, especially if the team keeps forward Josh Smith. The Hawks have reportedly been involved in trade rumors with Smith, who will be a free agent in the offseason. If Atlanta can keep Smith, pairing Howard with him and Al Horford might give them the best frontcourt in the NBA.
The Brooklyn Nets have made multiple attempts to acquire Howard, but have been unsuccessful. Howard has made it known that he wants to sign with the Nets, but they likely won’t be able to offer him anything more than the veteran’s minimum.
The Lakers are still the overwhelming favorites to sign Howard. The All-Star would have to sacrifice millions of dollars by signing elsewhere, and even though they’ve struggled this season, Los Angeles still has a lot of talent in Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol.