The Dwight Howard era in Houston is likely over now that he’s opted out of his current contract in order to try and reap the financial benefits of the skyrocketing salary cap this summer. The 30-year-old center was set to earn a little more than $23 million next season with the Rockets, and it seems like he’s at least still dreaming of landing a max-level offer that would pay him somewhere in the neighborhood of $30 million annually.
But the former three-time Defensive Player of the Year could be in for a rude awakening. Since leaving Orlando, his productivity has declined steadily. Injuries have been a factor in recent years, but even a mostly-healthy Howard saw his role significantly reduced on an underachieving Rockets team that was one of the most disappointing stories of the 2015-2016 season.
At least part of that has to do with Howard’s reluctance to adapt his game to the new NBA and his continued belief in himself as a primary option on offense, which resulted in no shortage of chemistry issues with Houston’s ball-dominant star, James Harden. That, along with Howard’s notorious immaturity, have apparently caused the majority of execs around the league to either sour on him altogether or drastically reconsider his value. Via Howard Beck of Bleacher Report:
Several executives suggested that the smart bet would be a two-year deal, with a third-year team option. Some even suggested overpaying on a one-year deal—so that Howard makes his money, and the team gets a year to evaluate him.
“He thinks his reputation will deliver him a max deal,” said one person with insight into Howard’s thinking.
In general, team executives said his starting salary should be no higher than $15 million‚—or $2 million less than Enes Kanter, the backup center for Oklahoma City, will earn next season.
If that’s all Howard can command in free agency, with the cap rising to nearly $94 million, that would complete an absolutely legendary fall from grace for a player once considered the second coming of Shaquille O’Neal. Nevertheless, several teams will still be clamoring for his services. His hometown Atlanta Hawks have indicated that they’ll make a run at him, and the Boston Celtics are reportedly in play as well.
The reason is that, despite all of the extracurricular nonsense, Howard still has a tremendous skill-set. This free agency period could be a humbling experience for the big man, but it might just be the wake-up call he needs to change his mindset and transform into a winner and team player.