When the calendar hits July 1st every year, NBA executives strap on their salary cap helmets and dive into the world of free agency. For many teams, there is just no hope. If a small-market team loses a valuable free agent without receiving value in return, they tend to throw money at the problem and end up spending too much on another free agent. This creates a perpetual cycle of despair for some fans since teams overpay for mediocre free agents and set themselves up for failure in the long-term. That's the reality of the NBA these days though. Arguably, the NBA has the least parity of any Big-4 sports league in America.
However, baller junkies can't resist watching closely as each year there is at least one superstar facing a LeBron-like “Decision” in picking their free agent destination. Ultimately, it's positive for the league because it gives them press in the long offseason. The NFL has succeeded in making the league a year-round product, and clearly the NBA has surpassed Major League Baseball in doing the same.
This year was no different with Dwight Howard and Chris Paul both up for free agency. For a while, it looked as if they could go in a package deal. If you had followed the Lakers over the past year, it was clear that Dwight was uncomfortable in Los Angeles and that he was on his way out. Sensing opportunity, the Hawks, Mavericks, Clippers, and others carved out enough cap space to afford two uber-max contracts.
Finally, our long “Dwightmare” is over after almost two years. To recap, Howard wanted out of Orlando and sabotaged their season. Last season, after being traded to the Lakers, Dwight battled injuries, but the team came up well short of expectations. The writing was on the wall throughout the season, but few believed that Howard would leave $30 million on the table to sign with another team. But that's just what Dwight did. Leaving LA is a clear sign that winning means more to Howard than money.
The truth of the matter is that Houston is in a better position than the Lakers. With Dwight onboard, the Rockets now boast two of the best rim protectors in all of basketball. Although Howard and Omer Asik can't play together, Houston is assured of 48 minutes of dominating interior defense. Add to the mix a budding superstar in James Harden, and strong role players such as Chandler Parsons, Donatas Motiejunas, Patrick Beverley, among others, and Houston should be a solid contender in the West without filling out the rest of their roster. One issue could be Jeremy Lin, who appears to be redundant with Harden and Beverley looking like primary ball-handlers. A trade could be in the works, but the picture is still murky with many teams still looking to add pieces in free agency. This much is clear: Dwight Howard may be happy for the first time in years. Let's hope it stays that way or ESPN will undoubtedly let you hear about it in a never ending Dwightmare sequel.
On the other hand, CP3's situation was quite different from Howard's. He told the Clippers that if they didn't upgrade their coaching situation, he would be out the door. Well, they made an immense splash by “trading” for Doc Rivers. Problem solved, right? At least for now, the Clippers look poised for success with two superstars, a phenomenal coach, and a rabid LA hoops market.
And NBA free agency rolls on. Whether we like it or not, “The Decision” era of the NBA is here to stay. Keep in mind, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant could both be free agents next offseason. ESPN is already preparing.