With Dwight Howard scheduled to hit free agency this summer, a few teams are undoubtedly preparing game plans to convince him to sign with them with the hope of instantly becoming championship contenders.
Unless there's a bona fide star player to be had in exchange, indications persist that the [Atlanta] Hawks don't want to do anything that cuts into the considerable cap-space haul they're headed for in July. Because they're going to be right alongside the Dallas Mavericks, sources say, in trying to steal Howard from the Lakers.
In the case of the Mavericks, it makes perfect sense.
Mark Cuban, owner of the Mavs, struck out on Deron Williams during free agency in the 2012 offseason and Dwight Howard waived his early termination clause last season to postpone his ability to sign a new contract until at least July 2013.
Consequently, Dallas has essentially wasted two seasons of Dirk Nowitzki’s career by surrounding him with players on short-term contracts that aren’t quite part of the championship picture going forward.
The idea may sound preposterous, but there is a precedent: the current installment of the Miami Heat.
For about a season-and-a-half, Pat Riley surrounded Dwyane Wade with temporary players—rentals, if you will—so that once the 2009-10 season came to a close, he would have massive cap room to make a run at Chris Bosh and LeBron James.
Riles completed the feat and the Heat won the title two seasons later.
The Dallas Mavericks are hoping to follow that blueprint and have a fair amount of cap room available this summer to make a run at Howard.
Granted, they may need to trade away Shawn Marion to give themselves sufficient room under the salary cap to bring in the big man, but that may very well end up being a formality.
Things get interesting when we consider what benefits Cuban could possibly present to D12 to have him leave Los Angeles.
Quite frankly, Kobe Bryant and Mike D’Antoni might very well be doing that for him.
The Lakers are operating an offense that isn’t the least bit focused on Dwight’s strengths on that side of the ball, and in addition, the former Orlando resident has to share the rock with Bryant, who tends to monopolize the touches and thus the offense as a whole.
Therefore, head coach Rick Carlisle and Cuban can sell the idea to Dwight Howard that he will be playing on a team where he will be the top option. Or at worst, he'll be the second look in an offense where he will be playing alongside a power forward in Dirk Nowitzki, which would perfectly compliment Howard because of Nowitzki's shooting stroke.
Indeed, the German would stretch out the floor and give the superstar center ample room to operate on the low block, where no one player in the league can defend him.
As silly as it may sound, the Mavericks’ game plan may simply consist of showing Dwight Howard that their culture and system have nothing to do with the way the Lakers operate.
The Atlanta Hawks, on the other hand, will try to go a different route.
They will have the necessary cap space to outright sign the perennial All-Star, but in addition, they will have a stud big man in Al Horford to abandon the center spot and play his natural position of power forward next to Dwight Howard.
The tandem has the potential not only to be deadly, but it could ravage an Eastern Conference that is clearly devoid of quality big men. In other words, a healthy Howard playing with Horford automatically turns the Hawks into a championship contender.
Furthermore, there is the added bonus of the three-time Defensive Player of the Year returning home to Atlanta to play in front of friends and family.
The one wild card in all of this is Josh Smith.
The left-handed high-flyer has made it known that he will not settle for anything less than a max contract, which could potentially compromise the cap space available to sign Howard as a free agent.
It’s worth noting that Atlanta could trade Smith for a talented perimeter player or figure out a way to get him to sign for less than his market value or close to it—all the while still acquiring the Lakers center. Such a bold move would make the Hawks a three-headed monster that could occasionally play all three on the court at the same time with the hope that their athleticism and defensive chemistry would simply overwhelm opponents.
With that said, should Atlanta fail to bring back Smith, general manager Danny Ferry and head coach Larry Drew could still sell Howard on the idea that his hometown team would do for him what the Lakers could not: have a terrific big-man tandem play in concert with one another.
Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard were supposed to be the new Tim Duncan and David Robinson pairing, but instead, they have looked like Toni Kukoc and Dennis Rodman, which isn’t entirely a bad thing, but it’s not a great occurrence, either.
Atlanta and Dallas offer one advantage that may ultimately sway the Lakers starting center to exit the City of Angels: They can offer him to be the present of their franchises as well as the future, whereas the Purple and Gold are promising him the opportunity to be the face of the organization once Bryant retires.
Given Dwight Howard’s trials and tribulations so far this season, is it really that hard to imagine him being lured away by either the Mavericks or Hawks based on the situations presented above?
If your answer is no, then one can understand why some Lakers fans might be a little worried.