Dwight Howard still hasn’t made a decision as to which team he will be joining next season. Yet. But he will. And it’s expected to come relatively soon, by Howard’s standards anyway.
The Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets, Golden State Warriors, Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks remain his top suitors. Houston and Los Angeles have spent the better part of the NBA free-agency process duking it out for Howard’s most likely destination. Apparently the Warriors are beginning to gain some steam, though. Like a lot. Like they may now be favorites to land Superman.
Emboldened by how well their meeting with Howard went, Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com report that the Warriors are aggressively trying to unload some of their more expensive contracts to create enough cap space to sign Howard:
The Golden State Warriors, increasingly convinced they have a legitimate shot at winning the Dwight Howard sweepstakes, have begun aggressively attempting to trade away players to clear the requisite salary-cap space to sign the All-Star center, according to sources with knowledge of the team’s thinking.
So sources say that the Warriors, in an effort to manufacture some financial flexibility to help their chances, have begun calling teams with salary-cap space to try to entice them to take expiring contracts off their books so they can clear a $20 million hole for Howard.
Such a scenario would be challenging, some executives have said, but not impossible. The Warriors have three huge expiring contracts in Andrew Bogut ($14 million), Richard Jefferson ($11 million) and Andris Biedrins ($9 million). According to sources, they have tried to unload all three players this week to teams with cap room. Yet, Golden State likely would have to be willing to add assets to any potential deals to get teams interested.
Just how much cap space would the Warriors have to free up to have enough money to sign Howard? A lot.
Golden State has roughly $70.9 million on its books leading into next season. With the salary cap slated to be somewhere around $58.5 million, the Warriors need to get there current figure down to approximately $38.5 million. That entails cutting $32.4 million off their books.
As Stein and Windhorts note, trading away the contracts of Andrew Bogut, Richard Jefferson and Andris Biedrins would get them right there. Together, those three are worth about $34 million.
Since each of them are expiring contracts, they shouldn’t be too difficult to move. Finding a team with the cap space necessary and who is willing to assume them without sending back anything in return is the problem.
Bogut won’t be too much of an issue. He’s injury prone, but also a defensive savant. There will be some team willing to take him on while sending back only draft picks. Jefferson and Biedrins are a different story. No team is going to take them on just because. Jefferson’s value is low, but he can at least still be of some use to a team. Biedrins is the punch line of jokes at this point. There’s little chance a team with money to burn would be willing to send even a second-round pick back for his services.
Such is the Warriors’ dilemma. They could try and grease the wheels of any deal by including some draft picks of their own, or they’ll be forced to deal Klay Thompson and/or Harrison Barnes, two of their most prized youngsters.
Were the Warriors receiving Howard via a sign-and-trade with the Lakers, then losing one of them makes sense. But after going through the trouble of shipping out three separate contracts, they’ll likely want to hang to both.
To that end, the Lakers appear to be softening their stance on a sign-and-trade involving Howard. Per Ramona Shelburne and Stein of ESPN.com, Los Angeles is prepared to explore such scenarios if Dwight opts to leave:
Yet, there were indications late Thursday that Lakers officials, already bracing for the worst, had begun to rethink their long-held position of ruling out sign-and-trade options in the event Howard decides to bolt to one of L.A.’s rivals.
One source briefed on the Lakers’ thinking told ESPN.com that, if the extra fifth year and nearly $30 million they can offer Howard isn’t enough to hold off the competition, they would be forced to “look at everything.”
Why would their stance all of a sudden change? Not trading him was their only leverage. It was supposed to take the Warriors out of the running entirely and make Houston look like less of an appealing destination because a refusal to trade him to the Rockets meant they wouldn’t be able to pull off a Josh Smith coup as well. Why would the Lakers give that up?
Because the Warriors may have done what was considered impossible.
Peter Vecsey reports that the Warriors have two teams prepared to trade for the contracts of Biedrins, Bogut and Jefferson should the Lakers be unwilling deal.
It’s unclear which teams those are and whether or not Golden State would have to give up Barnes or Thompson in the process, but that report is enough to light a fire under Los Angeles’ ass.
Obviously, the Lakers want to re-sign Howard. That’s priority No. 1. The last thing they want to do is eliminate any of their options by coming across as stubborn old mules, though. If Howard isn’t going to re-sign with them, they should at least want to explore a sign-and-trade, especially if it doesn’t jeopardize any of their cap space in 2014 and lands them either Barnes or Thompson in the process. They have to be at least able to entertain that notion.
Watching Golden State ship out those three contracts renders them helpless. The Warriors would have the ability to sign Dwight outright and the Lakers would lose what may now be considered the only leverage they hold, aside from being able to offer Howard that fifth year.
The way this is shaping up, it seems the Warriors may have become the favorites to land Howard. Imagining them risking their team dynamic by so openly shopping their players without some sort of feel for where Howard’s head at is difficult. Maybe they can pull this off, all of it, after all. Maybe they already have.
Or maybe not.
Only time and a few potential trades will tell.
Dan Favale is a firm believer in the three-pointer as well as the notion that defense doesn’t always win championships. His musings can be found at Bleacherreport.com in addition to TheHoopDoctors.com. Follow @danfavale on Twitter for his latest posts and all things NBA.