Dwight Howard, if he’s smart, is going to opt out of the final year of his contract with the Houston Rockets that is supposed to pay him $23.2 million in 2016-17.
Last night, he joined TNT’s Inside The NBA with Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith to have as honest as a conversation as you’ll see a player have publicly going into likely unrestricted free agency.
Howard addresses his bad reputation, his perceived lack of effort and engagement, difficulty playing with James Harden, money, etc. And after Howard said he hadn’t even thought about his contract situation since the Rockets’ 41-41 season ended in the first round, host Matt Winer wouldn’t let him off the hook that easy.
Howard, who has had a long history of back issues, averaged 13.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game in his 12th season. That’s decent production for a center in today’s small-ball NBA but not good enough production for a player who wants $20 million-plus a year. It’s a significant drop off from 20.6 points, 14.5 rebounds and 2.1 blocks in his final season with the Orlando Magic in 2012.
By comparison, Wizards center Marcin Gortat averaged a Howard-like 13.5 points, 9.9 rebounds and 1.3 blocks this season at $12 million per year.
Why does it make sense for Howard to opt out of a final year at $23.2 million? He’s 30. This will be his last big contract. If he goes into 2016-17 without any security beyond that, he’s putting all of his future earnings at risk.
The NBA salary cap is jumping at an unprecedented rate from $70 million to $93 million this summer. More than 20 teams have cap room and after Kevin Durant makes his decision there will be a lot of money searching for a good home. There aren’t a lot of quality big men available and supply vs. demand means Howard, even though he's no longer the best center in the game, can rake in $20 million-plus on a multi-year deal.