Dwight Howard is extremely unhappy in Houston playing second fiddle to alpha dog James Harden, multiple league sources tell SheridanHoops.com. And with the Rockets underachieving more than any NBA team, look for them to try to move Howard later this season.
And the destination that makes the most sense is Miami in a trade centered around Hassan Whiteside.
It makes so much sense, in fact, that I will go so far as to predict that Howard will be wearing a Miami Heat uniform by the end of February.
This prediction is based upon the fact that the Heat, as colleague Michael Scotto is reporting today, are trying to get the Sacramento Kings to part with DeMarcus Cousins, offering a package of Whiteside, rookie Justise Winslow and cap filler to make the salaries match. Chicago and Boston also are actively making offers for Cousins.
Problem is, the Kings are not inclined to move Boogie (although they were on draft night, when a deal with the Lakers for D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle and a low first-rounder) would have gotten it done — if the Lakers had said “yes,” which they didn’t).
And if the Kings hold firm to that stance, Heat president Pat Riley is going to try to turn Whiteside into the best available center he can find. Not only does Howard fit that bill, he also would be placed back in position to be an alpha dog for the first time since he left the Sunshone State after the 2011-12 season in a trade that sent him to the Lakers, where he was immediately at odds with Kobe Bryant.
Howard, of course, has since moved on to Houston, where in Year 3 he is averaging a paltry 8.3 shots per game in an offense built around the ball-dominating James Harden, whose propensity to break out of the offense makes Kobe look timid by comparison.
Howard is averaging 13.0 points (his lowest since averaging 12.0 in his rookie year) and 12 rebounds. Through Monday night’s games, he had attempted only 158 shots in 25 games — the sixth-highest total on the team behind Harden (507), Trevor Ariza (252), Marcus Thornton (236), Corey Brewer (185) and Terrence Jones (176), and only four more attempts than the seldom-used Ty Lawson (154).
So this makes Dwight the sixth option.
And Mr. Sixth Option also happens to have an option year on his contract next season for $23 million and change. Would he walk away from that kind of guaranted money to hit the free agent market? Of course he would. With the salary cap jumping to $90 million next season, two-thirds of the league will be able to offer him a max deal.
But the flip side is that Howard is 30 and is a shell of the player he was in Orlando. That is the result of deterioration – or not being the go-to player on offense. Probably more of the latter than the former.
Which is where Miami comes in.
First of all, unless the Heat renounce their rights to Dwyane Wade, NBA salary cap rules will preclude them from offering Whiteside his full market value. Miami would be able to offer between $8-9 million, which is at least half of what the kid can get on the open market. On a full max deal, Whiteside would be looking at a $90 million payday, and nobody walks away from a $90 million payday.
So he’s a goner, one way or another. And the Heat know it.
The solution? Trade him while you can still trade him for something of value. And no place would be a better fit for Howard than Miami, with its geriatric roster built around Wade and Chris Bosh. If you are Riley, and your two best players are in their 30s, why not add a third 30-something and take a swing at Cleveland with that?
It not only is plausible, it is reasonable.
Here is what the deal might look like in the trusty NBA trade machine:
Or, it could look like this:
Here’s more on trade possibilities involving Howard, Whiteside and Cousins in this video with CineSport’s Noah Coslov.
Bottom line: The Rockets are at risk of losing Howard for nothing. Same goes for the Heat with Whiteside. If they make a deal, both teams will have their centers of the future.
Chris Sheridan is publisher and editor-in-chief of SheridanHoops.com. Follow him on Twitter.