- Jeff Goodman, ESPN Insider
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Shortly after NBA free agency commences in the wee hours Sunday morning, Dwight Howard is set to meet in Los Angeles with a Houston Rockets contingent that includes management, players and former star center Hakeem Olajuwon, according to a source with knowledge of the meeting.
Teams are officially allowed to start meeting with free agents at 12:01 a.m. Monday.
ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard reported earlier this week that Howard, a seven-time All-Star who spent this past season with the Lakers, also plans to meet with Dallas and Atlanta before sitting down with the Lakers. A source told ESPNLosAngeles.com's Dave McMenamin that Howard also has agreed to meet with Golden State. Broussard reported it's unlikely Howard will re-sign with Los Angeles.
Sources told ESPN that the Mavericks' delegation -- led by owner Mark Cuban and star forward Dirk Nowitzki -- will present Dallas' case to Howard on Tuesday in Los Angeles. Broussard reported earlier in the week that the Lakers will go last, a request made by the team, meaning Atlanta's turn likely will be between Houston's and Dallas' presentations.
"There is no frontrunner," a source told McMenamin.
The Lakers can offer a max deal of $118 million for five seasons while other teams will be able to offer a maximum of $88 million over four years.
The Lakers have been meeting with Howard's representatives for several weeks as they had an exclusive negotiating window until July 1st. Thursday evening general manager Mitch Kupchak said he was "optimistic" the team could convince Howard to re-sign.
One person who is not expected to be at the Lakers meeting with Howard is former coach Phil Jackson, the fiance of Lakers co-owner Jeanie Buss. Jackson is on his way to his second home in Montana, sources told ESPNLA's Ramona Shelburne. But, as one source put it, "It's not like they don't have phones there."
Jackson has spoken to Howard in the past, and given opinions on him over the past few months in interviews associated with his book tour.
Kupchak said Thursday that he and Jackson talk often about basketball and that he's been "helpful" to him.
Howard averaged 17.1 points and 12.4 rebounds in his lone turbulent season with the Lakers after spending the first eight years of his NBA career in Orlando.
Information from ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard, ESPN.com's Marc Stein and ESPNLosAngeles.com's Ramona Shelburne and Dave McMenamin was used in this report.
2dSteve Ilardi and Jeremias Engelmann