We’re about to find out if the Warriors are the hottest franchise in the NBA.
On July 10, free agent center Dwight Howard, the best center in basketball, will decide if he wants to sign with the Lakers, the Rockets, the Mavericks, the Hawks or the Warriors, according to published reports. Warriors’ owner Joe Lacob, general manager Bob Myers and head coach Mark Jackson were to meet with Howard in Los Angeles Monday to convince him to sign.
Just making Howard’s final-five is a quantum leap for the franchise, which was one of the worst in American sports the past two decades. Howard would have had zero interest in the Warriors had he been a free agent last offseason or any other offseason before that.
It’s probably a long shot the Warriors will land Howard. It usually takes a franchise more than one winning season to lose a loser reputation. According to Yahoo, the Rockets currently are the front-runner to sign Howard. They have a terrific young shooting guard – James Harden – they won 45 games last season and made it to the playoffs, losing in the first round to the Thunder.
But the Warriors are better than the Rockets. The Warriors won 47 games in the regular season, beat the Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs and took two games from the Western Conference champion Spurs in the second round.
The Warriors’ personnel would fit Howard perfectly. He wants to be the focal points of his team’s offense, posting up and taking his man one-on-one, or drawing a double-team and passing to an open 3-point shooter. The Warriors are the best 3-point-shooting team in the NBA. Open 3-point shots are layups for Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Defenders cannot leave them alone to double-team someone else. If Howard signs with the Warriors, opponents would have to defend him straight up, no double-teams, and very few teams have a center who can stop him.
What do the Rockets have over the Warriors? Money. There is no state income tax in Texas, so Howard would make more money if he signed with the Rockets as opposed to the Warriors.
But the Rockets do not have a better package to offer the Lakers in a sign-and-trade. The Rockets can trade Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik, two role players. The Warriors can trade Andrew Bogut and Harrison Barnes, two impact players.
The Warriors have one more important thing over the Rockets – cap space. The Warriors have a ton of it next offseason and the Rockets don’t. The Warriors want to create even more cap room by trading David Lee, according to Yahoo. If the Warriors can trade Lee for players whose contracts expire after next season (doable, Lee is a two-time All Star and he just turned 30), the Warriors would have more than enough cap space to sign another All Star player to a max contract.
Is there anyone worth signing to a max contract next offseason?
How about LeBron James?
Although the Heat just won the championship, they have no future. Dwyane Wade will be 32 next season and he’s been steadily declining for the past three years. Chris Bosh has been a disappointment for the Heat, especially in the playoffs. After next season, James either can go down with the Heat’s sinking ship, or he can join a team that has a future.
No team would have a brighter future than the Warriors if Howard chooses to sign with them on July 10. How could James turn down a max contract to join Howard and Curry?
James couldn’t possibly find a young team with more talent. And he couldn’t find a better fit.
As he demonstrated against the Spurs in the Finals, James has become practically an unstoppable power forward when he’s surrounded by three shooters and a shot-blocking center. The Heat’s best playoff lineup was James at power forward, Chris Anderson at center and Mario Chalmers, Ray Allen and Shane Battier on the wings. When those five players were on the floor together, they collectively shot 73.1 percent from the field and 75.0 percent on 3-pointers. James created a wide open shot almost every possession.
The Warriors could recreate that lineup, except with much more talent. Howard could be the shot blocking center, and the three guards could be Curry and Thompson and Nemanja Nedovic, the Warriors’ recent first-round pick.
That would be a Super Team, one of the most talented teams in NBA history. No other franchise can dream about assembling a roster like that right now except the Warriors.
Is it only a dream? That’s up to Howard.
Grant Cohn writes two sports columns per week for the Press Democrat’s website. He also writes the “Inside the 49ers” blog. Follow him on Twitter @grantcohn.