Free-agent center Dwight Howard hopes to decide which team he will sign with by Friday, a source close to the talks told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
The source also told ESPN that Howard’s final decision is “totally up in the air.” Howard spent the past few days meeting with teams that are courting his services, including the Los Angeles Lakers, whom he played for this past season, and the Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets, Golden State Warriors and Atlanta Hawks.
Perhaps the most surprising development of the week, sources briefed on the meetings told ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, is the strong impression that the Warriors made in their presentation to Howard on Monday.
The Rockets and Mavericks are widely considered the only teams capable of stealing Howard from the Lakers — and Golden State would need to construct a complicated sign-and-trade deal to have any shot at actually acquiring the center — but sources say that the Warriors indeed got his attention with their pitch.
The Warriors would have to find a way to shed some salaries to accommodate Howard in a sign-and-trade and likely would be restricted in whom they could add to the roster after completing that transaction, but sources say that Golden State is factoring into the center’s thinking.
The Lakers have thus far shown no inclination to participate in any sign-and-trades for Howard, according to sources with knowledge of their thinking. The team’s long-honed plan remains to preserve financial flexibility for the summer of 2014, when only Steve Nash is under contract and a bevy of top free agents could become available.
The Lakers also have deep concerns about their luxury tax exposure this season. If Howard were to leave, they seem inclined to simply let him go and use the savings to help them out of their luxury tax woes. If Howard were to stay, they would have to look at other options — either via trade or use of the league’s amnesty provision — to get themselves in better shape financially.
The bigger threats to the Lakers, though, remain Houston and Dallas, sources say. The Rockets offer the immediate lure of playing alongside James Harden and a promise from Houston’s front office to keep adding championship-level talent, whereas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is urging Howard to join proven ring winners in Dirk Nowitzki and Rick Carlisle — with Nowitzki also vowing to take a significant pay cut in the summer of 2014 that creates the needed salary-cap space to sign another star.
The NBA’s most sought-after free agent completed the last of his five scheduled sit-down meetings with teams vying for his services by meeting with the Lakers on Tuesday afternoon in Beverly Hills, Calif.
A Lakers contingent led by Kobe Bryant, Nash, general manager Mitch Kupchak, executive vice president of player personnel Jim Buss and representatives from both AEG and Time Warner Cable met with Howard for nearly two hours.
“At the meeting, we told him how important he is to the Lakers team, franchise, fans and community, and why we feel this is the best place for him to continue his career,” Kupchak said in a statement. “We are hopeful that Dwight decides to remain a Laker.”
Bryant, according to a Yahoo! Sports report, asked Howard to let Bryant teach him how to become a champion.
“You need to learn how it’s done first, and I can teach you here,” Bryant told Howard during the meeting, witnesses in the room told Yahoo! Sports. “… You have to learn how it’s done. I know how to do it and I’ve learned from the best — players who have won multiple times over and over.”
Howard was reluctant to tip his hand after he was finished huddling with the Lakers, signifying the end of a whirlwind two days of courtship.
“I had a lot of great meetings,” said Howard, who was wearing a pinstriped suit jacket and slacks. Howard then made his way to a white Ferrari and drove off with plenty to think about.
Howard was flanked by his agents, Dan Fegan and Happy Walters, for the meetings. The Lakers met in separate groups with Howard: Lakers vice president of business operations Tim Harris and the representatives from Time Warner Cable and AEG; Kupchak and Buss; and Nash, D’Antoni and Bryant.
One week after the Lakers unveiled a massive banner on the side of Staples Center with a photo of Howard alongside “STAY.” and the hashtag #STAYD12, the banner was removed.
Staples Center officials said the plan all along was to remove the banner after Tuesday night’s Los Angeles Sparks-Minnesota Lynx WNBA game. A crew began removing the banner around midnight and it was completely gone by early Wednesday morning.
Unlike the Houston Rockets, who flew Hall of Famers Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler into L.A. to be part of the presentation and had Yao Ming talk to Howard via Skype from China, the Lakers did not have any of the franchise’s legends present, nor were there any video messages from the likes of Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy et al. Former Lakers coach Phil Jackson was also not involved in the pitch.
However, the 11-time champion coach sent a dispatch to Howard via Twitter before heading to vacation in Montana over the weekend.
Earlier in the day, the Mavericks’ group featuring Cuban, Nowitzki, Carlisle and president and general manager Donnie Nelson were the latest to go and finished their three-hour pitch to Howard shortly after 4 p.m. ET.
Mavs trainer Casey Smith was also present, a source told ESPNDallas.com. Smith was the trainer on the 2008 gold-medal-winning U.S. Olympic team that Howard was also a part of.
It’s been a 48-hour bonanza for the All-Star center. It all started with a brief face-to-face greeting with Kupchak shortly after 12:01 a.m. ET on Monday, when the league’s free agency period opened and continued with a dinner featuring a large Rockets welcoming party later that night.
Next up was Howard’s hometown Hawks on Monday, followed by the Warriors, with both teams considered long shots to land the three-time defensive player of the year.