Future free agency: Who is the next Dwight Howard?

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Are you happy that the interminable saga surrounding Dwight Howard’s next destination is mercifully over?

Yeah, us too.

Most NBA observers – and we’re talking about everyone from Commissioner David Stern to billionaire owners to sleep-deprived GMs to fellow superstars to media members to fans to forum flamers – are mentally moving on from Howard now that he finally has been traded from the Orlando Magic to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Yes, there is a faction of folks who feel there may be a surprise ending. That group is headed by a billionaire owner from Texas who has dabbled in movies, and the script goes something like this: Howard continues his goofball behavior. Kobe Bryant chides him privately. Howard ignores Bryant. Bryant blasts him in public. Lakers don’t win the title. Bryant and the media blame Howard. Howard leaves via free agency for Dallas.

Possible? of course. When it comes to Howard, anything’s possible.

But it is highly unlikely, given that Howard has been living in Los Angeles since the end of the season and has gained a taste for the Left Coast. The almost inevitable endgame will be that he re-signs with the Lakers, one of his initial choice destinations.

So who’s next?

Who is the next player whose petulance holds the entire league hostage for months on end? Who is the next player whose diva behavior would shame the Kardashians? Who is the next player whose moving lips are a dead giveaway for his lies?

Who is the next player who rattles off desired destinations as if they are part of a wedding registry? Who is the next player whose agent plants so many stories he should be on HGTV? Who is the next player to lay waste to his GM, coach and team to simply satisfy his elite entourage of me, myself and I?

There has been a recent run of these guys, from LeBron James to Carmelo Anthony to Howard. All three were superstars stuck in smallish markets looking for something bigger and better to satisfy their enormous egos.

And while the new CBA does make it more lucrative for a player to stay put, it also makes the contract extension virtually meaningless, assuring that these soap operas will continue, just with different cast members.

Here they are.

2013 FREE AGENCY

ANDREW BYNUM: The best center not named Dwight Howard will be the most coveted free agent next summer. He just moved from the No. 2 market, where the only way he could emerge from the daunting shadow of Kobe Bryant was to act like a complete knucklehead. He now resides in Philadelphia and has a chance to own the No. 4 market if he sticks around. On the plus side, he is an hour from his New Jersey home. But he is now playing in front of a demanding blue-collar fan base which once booed Santa Claus. The determining variables will be Bynum’s ability to stay healthy and manage the demands of being the alpha dog.

CHRIS PAUL: He already has been down this road – albeit very briefly – in forcing his exit from New Orleans and somehow has gotten a pass from the same media and fans who raked James and Howard over the coals for similar behavior. In the past, he has backtracked on comments, getting himself in some trouble. He already has said he is not signing an extension but also spent the summer recruiting free agents to play in LA. Blake Griffin’s max extension and a burgeoning rivalry with the Lakers are excellent reasons for him to stay. But the Clippers need to name a GM ASAP to continually stroke his ego – and make sure he has a say in the next coach after Vinny Del Negro is inevitably deemed expendable.

JAMES HARDEN & SERGE IBAKA: On first blush, both of these restricted free agents don’t appear to be max players. But Harden is a Sixth Man Award winner whom many GMs envision as a starter and Ibaka could be Defensive Player of the Year if he repeats last season. Thunder GM Sam Presti’s problem is that he has about $42 million committed to Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Kendrick Perkins in 2013-14, which means maxing out Harden and Ibaka puts OKC in supertax territory with just five players. And before you say Perkins should be traded, keep in mind that he has shown he can defend Howard straight up. Neither Harden nor Ibaka will hold the sway of Bynum or Paul. But it sure looks like only one will stay, and the one to go can be extremely picky about where he plays.

2014 FREE AGENCY

LEBRON JAMES, DWYANE WADE & CHRIS BOSH: Sorry to break up the perpetual party, Miami, but each of the Heatles has a player option for the 2014-15 season. Let’s say the Heat doesn’t get it done in either of the next two seasons, with one of their playoff tapouts coming before the NBA Finals – not an implausible scenario. At that point, the trio will have one title in four years, owner Micky Arison will be buried by the supertax and it may be time to move on. Wade will be 32, but Bosh will be 30 and James will be just 29. Decision II, anyone? Keep in mind that Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol (combined $47.7 million) in LA and Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion (combined $32 million) in Dallas will be at the end of their deals as well.

CARMELO ANTHONY: Yes, him again, too. He has a $23.5 million player option for the 2014-15 season and may opt out if the relentless scrutiny of the New York media continues to target him (as it rightfully should, given his alpha dog status). A couple more abbreviated postseasons with the accompanying finger-pointing could convince Melo to seek greener pastures and perhaps even hook up with his buddy James in another ostentatious orchestration as thirtysomethings. And if you think Anthony won’t leave that sort of money on the table, remember that he refused to sign a three-year, $65 million extension in Denver.

DEMARCUS COUSINS: The NBA’s third-best center might be its second-best two years from now, when he becomes a restricted free agent. Cousins has spent his first two seasons tantalizing everyone with his top-10 talent while tormenting everyone with his incidents of immaturity. The Kings are in a perpetual rebuilding loop and may not be in Sacramento in 2014. And if Cousins continues his childish behavior, there could be a clean break – and every GM will believe he can fix him.

2015 FREE AGENCY

KEVIN LOVE: The game’s best power forward can opt out of the final year of his four-year extension and become an unrestricted free agent. Given the poor weather and market size of the Twin Cities, the talk of Love leaving will start as soon as next spring if the Timberwolves are unable to crash the postseason party. Love already has said as much, threatening to leave if management does not make Minnesota a contender. The summer of 2015 also is when teammate Ricky Rubio comes due for an extension. Aside from James, Love has the greatest potential to compel the basketball world to chronicle his every word, deed and facial expression for months on end.

RAJON RONDO: Rondo’s current five-year, $55 million extension of his rookie contract did not come without some of saber-rattling and idle threats known as negotiating. The All-Star point guard of the Celtics did not deserve a max deal then but he will three years from now, when he will be just 29 – and the deals of teammates Kevin Garnett, Jason Terry and Brandon Bass also expire. Given that Chris Paul and Deron Williams will be in their 30s, Rondo conceivably could be the top pure point guard in the game in 2015. He also could still be a somewhat moody personality who doesn’t want to be .

LEBRON JAMES, DWYANE WADE & CHRIS BOSH: They can all opt out again, this time with just one year remaining on their parallel deals.

2016 FREE AGENCY

KEVIN LOVE: Yup, him again. It should be noted that if he doesn’t opt out early, that bodes extremely well for the Timberwolves.

KEVIN DURANT: By this time, Durant should have two or three more scoring titles, at least one more trip to the NBA Finals and perhaps even a championship on his resume – all at the tender age of 27. But much of his future could be pegged to what happens next summer, when Harden and Ibaka are up for extensions. If economics prevent the Thunder from winning a title, Durant may decide to spend the second half of his career elsewhere – and that hysteria could even surpass the swirl around Howard.

Chris Bernucca is a regular contributor to SheridanHoops.com. His columns appear Wednesday and Sunday during the season. You can follow him on Twitter.

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  1. LeBron James will be a Laker.

  2. Hello, after reading this remarkable post i am as
    well delighted to share my knowledge here with colleagues.

  3. Where in god’s name did that picture of melo come from? He never wore number 11 with the Knicks?

  4. If it’s going to be anyone It’s going to be Kevin Love without question as most of the players mentioned above have already gone through this mess once, i seriously doubt they’d go through it twice. But If by some chance they do decide to switch teams my guess they’ll do it quickly to avoid such a situation again. Kevin Love is in the same similar position most of these other players have been; he an exemplary player on a team that can’t get over the hump, and while i do think things are looking up for the wolves. It is simply nowhere near enough to make into contenders, at this point the best case scenario for the Wolves is making the playoffs. The more they lose the more it will keep eating away at him and we’ve already seen that Love is an impatient person with his quote during the Olympics.

    Oh and to make things even worse when the Wolves signed him to an extension not only did they not sign him for the max extension, but they were stupid enough to put in a player option. So if things get worse for the Wolves I wouldn’t be in the least bit surprised if a “Love to hate” debacle were to develop.

  5. alan siegel says:

    fortunately the lakers have mitch and will end up getting one or two of these FA’s to play with howard…my choice would be chris paul but i know in my heart he will nab someone (or two!)…

  6. I walked outside today in Minneapolis and the weather was piss poor. By golly, a warm, sunny 85 degree weather just about does it. Who knew people didn’t wear coats, gloves, and scarves in New York City because it never snows there and never gets to below freezing temperatures. Yeah, people wear shorts year round outside in NYC, right Mr. Sheridan?

    • Whoops… *Mr. Bernucca*

      • I’m pretty sure weather records show that there are only two months in Minnesota where it definitely cannot snow. And I have a family friend who lives there who says he and virtually all of his neighbors must have heated garages so their cars can start on winter mornings. Yes, the summers are temperate. But the winters are severe, and long. There is no comparison to the winter weather of New York, to say nothing of Miami, LA, Phoenix, Dallas, San Antonio, Atlanta and even Orlando. I’m sure Minnesota has wonderful aspects to it. But where you play is where you live in the winter. Thanks for reading.

        • Flagrant Two says:

          I too groan at the hyperventilation regarding Twin City weather.

          During my business career, we have lived in several coastal and interior states.

          The amount of time Twin City weather requires indoor dwelling is just about the same as the number of months of heat oppressive weather in most of the southern states. Cities such as New York, Chicago, Detroit, Toronto, Cleveland, and Boston.

          Additionally, because an NBA schedule assures an NBA team play half it’s schedule away, the actual time spent at home in the Twin Cities during the crux of Winter is minimized.

          Target Center is connected by heated skyways.

          Frankly, the over-emphasis on Twin City weather show a level of naïveté.

          • Flagrant Two says:

            Should read: “Cities such as Chicago……Boston experience roughly the same Winters”

        • It was entertaining but I take exception to the potshots against Minneapolis weather and market; especially when you’ve never lived there which makes your statements baseless. It has nothing to do with Kevin Love. Also, the season hasn’t even started, Kevin Love hasn’t even played a minute of his new contract, and all the rumors are running rampant already. LOL It’s ridiculous. Let’s face it… if Kevin Love ever does leave the Wolves, he’s headed to the Lakers and not your beloved Knickerbockers.

          Back to Minny, its complex Skyway System makes it so you don’t even need to step outside in the Winter. I’m sure many cities in the northern hemisphere has a system to get around in during the winter (NYC with its subway system). Concerning the market, sure being ranked 14th by Nielsen makes it a mid-market which isn’t comparable to the big markets of NYC, LA, or Houston but I guess you get a pass if you are Sacramento, Charlotte, NOLA, OKC, Indianapolis, and Salt Lake City. I guess the temperature every day in Minneapolis must be consistently Arctic-50 degrees below zero even in the summer. It doesn’t snow eight months out of the year and when it does snow six months out of the year the roads are cleared quickly. Heated garages aren’t necessary, so the people you know must live way out in the boonies or gated communities where the plows don’t go out to unless contracted. They have to have their gas-guzzling 4WD SUVs and gloat about having heated driveways and drink the same Kool-Aid as that lunatic congresswoman Michelle Bachman does. These are the same people who come into Uptown trying to imitate the locals but come off like a bad cover band. I digress but if market is so important, why did Westbrook and Durant remain in the 44th market? Why didn’t James and Wade move from their mid-market teams to the third biggest market (Chicago) while taking less money to do so? And by the way, Chicago, Milwaukee, and Minneapolis; all these three cities have the same weather in the winter too with lots of SNOW!

          By the way, in case geography was never taught in school, this is still the lower 48 states and not the Arctic Cicle; I’d ask the people of Toronto about the cold first since it is Canada and geography seems to have taught everyone that everything north of New York City is cold (o.O). I’ve lived in Memphis, TN, LA-CA, and Twin Cities, MN and when it gets to the 60-70s in LA-CA, it is by far the coldest (even more than MN on a below-zero day) due to that crisp bone-chilling cold. It’s funny how you write about getting crap because you’re not ESPN-people but yet you’re doing the same exact thing they’re doing. My, the irony… the victim becomes the perpetrator? I’m not saying Minneapolis is the best city in the world and that the Timberwolves is the best well-ran NBA franchise; I save those sentiments for Tokyo, Japan and the San Antonio Spurs respectively. However, you make it sound as if it never snows in OKC or New York City. Well, news flash, when winter hits the USA, it’s WINTER EVERYWHERE (even in NYC). And yes, even people play in the winter in NYC; the Knicks play indoors just like the Celtics, the Lakers, the Wolves and every other NBA franchise in the winter. There’s this other sport played by professionals occasionally outside called The Winter Classic but hockey is a whole ‘nother horse. You’ve been boxed.

          As one of many long suffering Wolves fans, we’d like to see Glen Taylor sell the team to someone who cares about building a winning product in Minnesota and who isn’t afraid to open the pocket book to make it happen. I’m not a fan of David Kahn either but the team he has now is better than the team he has inherited in `09. Remember, it was Glen Taylor that caused the NBA Lockout in ’99 with the ginormous contract given to KG. The contract was so crippling, Kevin McHale couldn’t add any pieces around him; except when they were able to acquired aged vets Cassell and Sprewell. Also, the whole Joe Smith debacle was a poor ownership decision which lead to the crippling of a franchise. It was the lowest of lows when the KG era ended. Who could forget the Randy Foye-Brandon Roy swap, drafting Rashad McCants over Danny Granger, Corey Brewer over Joakim Noah, and Chris Richard over Marc Gasol? The incompetency of the front office ran the franchise nearly to the ground. Even when there was a leadership change (Kahn), the new front office botched up many lottery picks and the Kurt Rambis triangle experiment was a disaster; without the aforementioned, rebuilding would have moved along quicker. I was shouting for a Rubio/Curry backcourt but got Flynn. I was shouting Cousins after the names of Turner, Wall, and Favors were called or sending the #4 pick to PDX for Nicolas Batum as PDX had offered; instead, the pick was Johnson. If you really did your research and wanted a valid point for Kevin Love leaving, it’s what is written above… the incompetency of the front office!

          Finally, to quote Adrian Wojnarowski, “Minneapolis is great basketball city but the fans deserve better.” People often forget that Minneapolis has a longl, standing basketball tradition. This was where George Mikan, along with Jim Pollard, led the Minneapolis Lakers to five NBA championships; that’s more than the Knicks will ever have in this lifetime (just saying). People also seemed to have forget how loud, fun, and exciting Target Center was when the Wolves played the Kings in the semi-finals and the Western Conference Finals in 2004.

          The bottom line is that city and weather bashing is just pure lazy journalism. With the ability to reach as many people as you do, it’s damn shame to resort to Bleacher Report tactics.

          • Guys, relax… it’s only Bernucca. There’s more credibility in a conversation with a 7 year old.

  7. Re: Chris Paul. From a huge New Orleans Hornets fan, CP3 got a pass for what he did compared to Howard because of how he handled it. His public comments were limited to one early cryptic comment similar to what Kevin Love said – that the team needed to improve. Although he wanted to be on the Knicks with Carmelo Anthony, he quickly realized they did not have assets to give in returned and worked with the Hornets on finding a trade partner that made sense for both teams. Also, at the time the team had no owner, and there was no obvious way they were going to get better, so he had a far more justifiable reason for wanting to leave. I think while we were disappointed to see him go, the fans generally do not harbor a lot of ill will, even before the events of this offseason that lead people to believe the trade will ultimately make us better going forward.

    • Chris Bernucca says:

      Fair enough. What probably should be added is that Paul was the face of the franchise when it came back from the virtual dead in that rollicking 2007-08 season. My issue with him dates to my days at Pro Basketball News when he told Chris Tomasson (freelanding for us at the time) on tape that he would have to consider moving on, then tried to demean him as a writer and deny the quote with a Tweet. It didn’t sit well with me, and it’s the sort of thing lots of sports folk do to non-ESPN news outlets. Jim Calhoun even did it to Yahoo, trying to call their thorough report of countless violations at UConn as “some blog” even when it was an obvious big-time news outlet. Anyway, thus far Paul is being very well-behaved. He does have a lot of leverage though. Thanks so much for reading and the measured, informed comment.

      • It’s also important to note that, while Chris Paul behaved better, he was also treated better by his team’s front office. Howard made a mess of things, but Orlando’s management betrayed him when they told Stan Van Gundy about a private conversation in which Howard allegedly asked for Van Gundy to be fired. Howard screwed the Magic pretty badly and made himself look really bad, but the Magic certainly did their part in deteriorating his public image. Howard’s actions since SVG told the media his star player wanted him fired isn’t much worse than those of most disgruntled superstars in the recent past. He wasn’t very smart, but he wasn’t necessarily unfair to anyone.

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