Houston Rockets Dwight Howard Preps for Free Agency

Feb 25, 2016; Portland, OR, USA; Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard (12) high fives Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) before the game against the Portland Trail Blazers at the Moda Center at the Rose Quarter. Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 25, 2016; Portland, OR, USA; Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard (12) high fives Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) before the game against the Portland Trail Blazers at the Moda Center at the Rose Quarter. Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports /

Despite Dwight Howard’s refusal to commit as to whether he’ll opt out this summer there is logical reasoning as to why he will. In fact a look at the 2016 free agent list offers all the reasoning in the world as to why he will.

In one of the more genuine moments of Inside the NBA in recent history Charles Barkley, Kenny “the Jet” Smith and Matt Winer quizzed Dwight Howard on his plans to opt out of his contract, his relationship (or lack thereof with James Harden) and his likeability factor. Though Dwight Howard wouldn’t acquiesce to questioning regarding his future other than to say he’s already begun training for next season, it’s expected he will opt out.

If you are asking why everyone believes this to be true, it’s a relatively simple answer. Sure Howard is set to make $23.28 million next season and the T.V. contracts will offer even greater cap flexibility in the summer of 2017 if he doesn’t opt out. That said, the main difference is this season there are fewer free agents who rank among the upper echelon who’ll be available.

Like Howard, several players are expected to opt out such as LeBron James, DeMar DeRozan, Jeremy Lin, Pau Gasol, Chandler Parsons, and Gordon Hayward. Though James ranks as the most valuable asset on the list it’s expected he’ll replicate his actions from last season when he signed a 2-year contract with an opt out feature next summer once again to capitalize on the rising TV advertising dollars which serve to raise the salary cap.

That means the top available free agent is Kevin Durant. Though teams like the Washington Wizards have made their interest for Durant well known, it’s reasonable to assume most teams in the Association with the exception of Dallas who made the mistake of disparaging Russell Westbrook eliciting “he’s an idiot” from Durant will want to sign the former M.V.P.

In fact, even the top two Western clubs (Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs) have stated their intentions to pursue Durant. While teams may line up requesting a meeting with Durant it’s just as likely he’ll do exactly the same thing as James and sign a 2-year deal in Oklahoma City with an opt out. This serves two purposes as he’ll also benefit from the rising cap, and it will allow both Westbrook and Durant to enter next summer’s free agency period together. That offers KD an opportunity to :

1) see how OKC improve with one more season of Billy Donovan at the helm, and

2) see what Westbrook’s goals are, i.e. they can opt to make their decision to stay or go together.

Since they lead the Western Conference Finals 3 games to 1 there is also a very good chance they’ll win the title this season (hey, they were my preseason pick to do exactly that, so I’m not surprised by how well the Thunder are performing).

So returning to Howard it’s understandable why this season would offer potentially more teams interested in landing the center and offering him a substantial long term contract.

Segmenting the available free agent market down further in follow up posts which will feature each position. I’ve broken down those list:

  • players who can opt out of contracts in 2016
  • players who are restricted free agents – RFA
  • players listed with an RFA beside their name are unrestricted
  • players who teams have an option to opt out of – TO

Of note, if the player has an opt out in their contract there is a PO after their name, or if it’s a team option TO. In the case of restricted free agents, for example like Motiejunas and Jones who the Rockets own the bird rights to and can match any offers an RFA appears after their name. Further if the player is considered a multi positional player such as a shooting guard who can also play small forward their primary position is where they have been listed.

For example Donatas Motiejunas plays both power forward and center forward but is listed as the power forward (his predominant position). For players who will be highly sought after or considered top talents they have been linked.  In addition, top players (or ones likely to be heavily pursued) are  also linked to basketball reference.

More from Space City Scoop

Well start with point guards and work all the way up to centers. Immediately after the positional articles SCS will run a 2017 list by team.

Taking a look at those lists and specifically the 2016 versus 2017 center free agents it’s easy to understand why Dwight Howard would be wise to enter free agency this summer. UPDATE: With news from the Houston Chronicle today saying Mike D’Antoni will be the next Houston Rockets head coach it surely means Howard is definitely on his way out.

In the coming weeks following the wrap up of the SCS Draft Prospect Series the next major series the writers will tackle is Free Agents.  Specifically the series will look at individuals and dive into which players make sense for the Houston Rockets to target, who might be a logical fit for a low end contract and which major free agents should receive the Rockets priority focus. For now, the above list provides the comprehensive picture.

Make sure you check out the current Space City Scoop series including our year end player analysis, draft prospects worthy of Rockets picking or trading for, our best of reader/fan posts  and our end of season Rockets Round Table: