Who has the most to offer Howard?
With the free-agency period underway, Dwight Howard can now choose where he'd like to play next season. Which of the five teams meeting with him in Los Angeles can make the best pitch? Our crew weighs in on the decision looming over the league.
1. On a scale from 1-10, how do you rate what the Rockets can offer?
J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: 8. A chance to play with an ascending star in James Harden and learn low-post moves from Kevin McHale, with no state taxes to soften the financial blow from leaving the Lakers? Add in the Asian marketing inroads from Yao Ming's legacy and the presence of Jeremy Lin and Houston looks like the most appealing destination for Dwight.
Dan Feldman, Piston Powered: 8. The Rockets can offer plenty of money, and Howard's salary in Houston wouldn't be subject to a state income tax. Howard-Harden would rival James-Wade and Durant-Westbrook for the NBA's best 1-2 combo. Plus, Chandler Parsons fits well on the wings in support.
Andrew Han, ClipperBlog: 8. Houston can offer virtually everything Howard would desire in a team: a young star in Harden, a Hall of Fame big man as his coach and one of the savviest front offices in the league. Couple that with Texas' lack of state income tax, and the Rockets might have the best incentives for Howard on the court.
Rahat Huq, Red94: 9. Hot and humid and not the nicest place on this list to live. But unlike the other choices, Houston can offer Howard a chance at immediate contention; there are no "ifs" in their pitch. The Rockets also have some team culture of their own, boasting Howard's personal mentor, Hakeem Olajuwon.
Ethan Sherwood Strauss, ESPN Insider: 8. This seems to be a near-ideal situation on the face of it. Harden is the perfect pick-and-roll partner for Dwight, and Houston loves to provide space around their bigs with 3-point shooters. Unlike the Lakers, the Rockets would be considered a legitimate title contender upon the signing. The biggest negative is that Howard will be tasked with fixing a shaky defense. That's a task he wasn't up to last season.
2. On a scale from 1-10, how do you rate what the Warriors can offer?
Adande: 6. This should be higher, because with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson this could be an even better outside-shooting pairing than he had in his most successful Orlando years. There's also the chance to open another new building, the proposed arena by the Bay Bridge. The one thing the Warriors lack is salary-cap space, which would require a sign-and-trade and the departure of someone such as Harrison Barnes, making this a restricted destination for Howard.
Feldman: 2. The Warriors have a young, intriguing team that Howard would make much better. But they have no cap room, and by the time they give up enough to persuade the Lakers to make a sign-and-trade, their young, intriguing team would be gutted. Credit Golden State for even appearing to be a major player in this race.
Han: 7. A platoon of young, long-bomb snipers headlined by breakout sensation Curry should be enough to pique any player's curiosity. After witnessing their dramatic resurgence this season, just putting Howard center court in front of thousands of screaming Golden State fans, arguably the best in the league, might be enough to convince him the Warriors are the best long-term option.
Huq: 7. Maybe the best fan base in the NBA and a history that includes some of the most fun teams in recent memory. The Warriors could point to the chance to be paired with Curry and benefit from his shooting. On the flip side, getting him would require giving up at least one of the major pieces that would've made them so appealing in the first place.
Strauss: 4. The less the Warriors offer, the more the Warriors can offer. If GSW gives up Barnes and Thompson in a sign-and-trade, then Howard will have to compensate for David Lee's poor defense as both big men get in each other's way on offense. Perhaps that situation is worth it to the Warriors, but I don't see why Howard would want it. If Howard can play in faster lineups that include Barnes playing power forward, it's a different, better story -- one that includes a devastating Curry-Howard pick-and-roll.
3. On a scale from 1-10, how do you rate what the Hawks can offer?
Adande: 4. With the possibility of pairing Howard with Chris Paul gone, the best the Hawks can say is, "You'll be home." That has never held much appeal for Howard, so what does that leave? They could offer him the chance to choose the seat colors at Philips Arena, so he can have his preferred background when Hawks fans leave the seats empty.
Feldman: 4. Since entering the NBA out of high school, Howard has outgrown the humble persona he created in his hometown. Al Horford would be a solid running mate, but he doesn't compare to what could have been the Hawks' main pitch: playing with Paul. The point guard submarined Atlanta's appeal by agreeing to re-sign with the Clippers.
Han: 5. Playing in Atlanta creates the wonderful narrative arc of a star going home. But in recent years, most star players have spurned opportunities to sign with their hometown teams, possibly wary of off-court distractions. But the Hawks have a clean ledger and a quality young big man in Horford to complement Howard should he miss the comforts of home.
Huq: 1. With Paul headed back to L.A., the Hawks really aren't even an option. A better question is whether anyone would come to see them play, even with Dwight there.
Strauss: 5. With Paul staying in Los Angeles, I'm not certain that a Horford-Howard frontcourt is ideal. It would certainly be better than merely functional, because of Horford's midrange shooting and all-around good play. I'm just of the opinion that Dwight is best when surrounded by four 3-point shooters.
4. On a scale from 1-10, how do you rate what the Mavs can offer?
Adande: 6. This would go up if the Mavericks make a deal for Rajon Rondo, but if it's just Dwight and Dirk Nowitzki, that won't be enough and it won't be an elite duo for long. Then it would be up to Howard to play the recruiting role for the next big batch of free agents.
Feldman: 4. The Mavericks don't even have enough cap room to sign Howard, though it wouldn't be difficult to get there. Still, the Mavericks are old, and Howard alone won't make them a contender. With a short window to win with Nowitzki, there might not be time to add the requisite pieces.
Han: 6. The Mavericks also can flaunt an extra savings in taxes while also boasting a top coach in Rick Carlisle and a future Hall of Fame player in Nowitzki. But like the Lakers, the Mavs are an aging team. And when assessing the length of the championship window in Dallas, Howard would have to have faith that GM Donnie Nelson and Mark Cuban could rebuild quickly in a couple of years.
Huq: 5. No owner in the league has a better reputation among players than Cuban. His willingness to go the extra mile to make accommodations for comfort cannot be underestimated. But with an aging Dirk, the Mavs would need to be able to convince Howard that they'll be able to bring in someone else next summer to be able to claim long-term viability.
Strauss: 2. Well, they can offer the same state tax breaks that Houston gives. That's something. Beyond that, it's difficult to see why Howard should sign there. Cuban treats his players well, but he currently lacks players to lavish attention upon. Nowitzki is an all-time great, but he's 35 years old and moving with the speed and grace of a Zamboni.
5. On a scale from 1-10, how do you rate what the Lakers can offer?
Adande: 7. The main appeal right now would be the extra $30 million guaranteed they can give him. There's also the location and rich tradition, but if that appealed to Howard he would have fought for a trade to the Lakers in the first place and wouldn't even consider leaving. What's the long-term look with an aging Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol? Especially if other free agents are as disinterested in the Laker lore as Howard is?
Feldman: 6. Money is important, and the Lakers can offer more than any other team along with a huge market. But the only thing Howard might find more insufferable than playing with Kobe is playing with an injured Kobe who's not even out there every night helping the team.
Han: 8: Great weather, red carpet premieres, the opportunity to play for one of the NBA's most storied franchises and an extra year in contract security; the Lakers trump every other suitor's off-court amenities. Unfortunately, Howard soured on Mike D'Antoni's offense. And paired with their well-aged roster, Los Angeles might end up simply as "enjoy the ambiance, but dine elsewhere."
Huq: 5. That roster could be completely bereft of anything resembling NBA talent. But in terms of living conditions and team culture, it just doesn't get any better than the bright lights of Los Angeles. Still, they'd be selling him on "ifs" and the future, both contingent upon someone else agreeing to come next summer.
Strauss: 5. They can offer the most money, and that's a nice start. But certain Lakers positives can be counterbalanced by some negatives. Los Angeles is a delightful place for a generic athlete to live, but the Lakers-obsessed local media will kill Dwight if the team struggles again. The Lakers have wooed free agents in the past, but there aren't many prime, available targets should LeBron James decide to play for one of the other 29 teams. The Lakers will have plenty of cap room in 2014, but they're currently stocked with old players, one of which (Gasol) is best suited to play Howard's position.