Dwight Howard Rumors: Josh Smith Wants Howard in Atlanta, Could Chris Paul Join?

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It's mid-July and the NBA free-agency period has died down as NBA teams are in the midst of inking up their final free agent targets and snatching up recently waived players. However, the best player available, Dwight Howard, remains a man without a team.

The Brooklyn Nets took themselves out of the Howard sweepstakes after signing restricted free agent Brook Lopez to a four-year $60 million contract. Thus their prime trade asset, Brook Lopez, won't be tradable until Jan. 15.

Howard has had his heart set on becoming a Net for at least a year, however, it's time to face the facts that even Mikhail Prokhorov and Jay-Z cannot swing a deal for Howard before Orlando trades him during the offseason.

Brooklyn cannot receive a player in a sign-and-trade in the summer of 2012 because the Nets are more than $4 million over the luxury tax.

The Magic finally seem ready to dump Howard in either Los Angeles or Houston.

If Howard is traded to the Rockets, Daryl Morey believes he can convince Howard to re-sign and would hold on to him until he finally becomes a free agent next summer.

The Lakers may also be willing to challenge Howard's bluff while they chase their 17th title in franchise history but Orlando does not want to endure the same indecision with Andrew Bynum. The Lakers and Rockets trade rumors have been discussed ad nausea, however, there may be a dark horse contender for Howard's services next summer.

If you've ever watched Friday Night Light's, as this writer was doing Sunday night, you'll remember Dillon High's star senior running back Smash Williams' season two dilemma.

After turning down a scholarship offer from Alabama, Williams delivered a verbal commitment to his dream school, the fictional Texas Methodist University. However, towards the end of the season Williams gets his scholarship offer pulled by TMU after assaulting a teenager at a movie theatre.

Williams then finds himself lost in the recruiting wilderness without a college scholarship and Alabama is unable to offer him a scholarship after they filled up their recruiting class. Ultimately, Williams is offered a scholarship from Whitmore College, whose coach had been scouting him since he was in seventh grade.

Dwight Howard is Smash Williams and Brooklyn is his TMU.  The New York Knicks, who've spent all their cap money on Carmelo Anthony, Jeremy Lin, Tyson Chandler and Amare Stoudemire, are his Alabama.

Howard's hometown team, the Atlanta Hawks, are Dwight Howard's Whitmore College.

Not only did Howard attend high school in Atlanta but he also played AAU hoops with Hawks star Josh Smith and served as best man at his wedding.

At Carmelo Anthony's wedding in 2010, then-Hornets point guard Chris Paul toasted to the idea of forming a 'Big Three' alongside Anthony and Stoudemire in New York. However, barring the NBA salary cap going the way of the dodo bird, Paul doesn't have a future with the Knicks.

After newly hired Hawks general manager Danny Ferry traded Joe Johnson to Brooklyn and shipped Marvin Williams to Utah, he may have cleared a path for Paul and Howard to Atlanta in 2013.

This season, the Hawks have $65.5 million committed to their roster. In 2013, that number shrinks to $25 million. The cap for 2013 will be approximately the same as this season's $58 million cap.

Paul and Howard have reciprocated their desires to play alongside one another in the past and Paul will be a free agent in 2013. Given the current NBA climate and the growing accumulation of superstars as teammates, Paul is a superstar short in Clipper Land.

If Howard and Paul are still devoted to playing alongside one another next season, the Hawks can make that happen. The Hawks would also be able to retain either Al Horford or Smith.

The Hawks could be an even more attractive reunion after they signed Snellville, Georgia product Lou Williams, who succeeded Howard as Naismith Prep Player of the Year in 2005.

While a starting quartet of Deron Williams, Gerald Wallace, Johnson and Howard is attractive, it's also extremely unlikely to happen now.

The Hawks finally appear to have righted the ship in their front office. As a result, Smith's relationship with the Hawks has been altered in a short period of time.

After years of requesting trades, Smith proclaimed to SI.com on Wednesday that he would no longer like to be traded.

"Since I've been in the league, I've always been about winning,' Smith said. "With a good GM like Danny Ferry and everybody else, I think this organization is heading in a positive direction."

Smith also entertained the idea of linking up with his former best man.

"I guess every team that's unloading money, the media thinks they're targeting Dwight. And who wouldn't want a guy like that on your team? He's the best big man in the league. I'd love to have him. Who wouldn't? He's the most dominant big in the game right now." Smith added.

If winning championships were Howard's priority, he would agree to sign an extension with the Lakers in a heartbeat. If he 's cncerned about playing in the shadow of teammate Kobe Bryant as well as retired legends Jabbar, Wilt, Shaq and Mikan, he won't have that problem with the Hawks whose last great center, Bob Pettit, retired when the franchise was based in St. Louis.

Reportedly, the Mavericks are second on Howard's list if he doesn't end up in Brooklyn but Dallas doesn't offer anything the youth and cap flexibility to acquire multiple All-Stars like Atlanta can.

Not many insiders believed the Miami Heat could actually pull off their unprecedented free agent haul either. The friendship that Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Lebron James forged at the 2008 Olympic Games played a vital role in their decision to link up in 2013.

The Hawks are quickly becoming a homegrown team. Howard has already held the ring at Smith's wedding. As teammates in Atlanta, they could win rings of a different sort together. It sounds like a pipe dream but in the city of Martin Luther King, dreams can come true.