Here are a few notes as we dive deeper into Dwightmare 2013: Superman Dances With The Devil. Stay glued to our Dwight Howard free agency StoryStream for updates as they come in. And of course, our 2013 NBA Free Agency hub is a mighty fine way to stay informed on what all 30 teams are swinging.
But now, Dwight.
1. In one sense, the fact that the Los Angeles Lakers -- the Los Angeles Lakers -- have to make a full-on plea to retain a big-name free agent is all sorts of bizarre and wonderful. The campaign itself has been good. The team is doing cute little things like billboards and social media bits that we know Howard cares about. And Mitch Kupchak made an extra effort to see Dwight before the center's Monday morning meeting with the Rockets, just to remind him of what he has back in L.A. As a devout Laker hater, it pleases me to see the glamour team grovel. But as an NBA observer and someone whose team needs to grovel to land even mid-rung talent, I understand and admit that I am impressed. This was not something I imagined was in Kupchak's wheelhouse.
2. My Lord, people have twisted themselves up in knots to dismiss Howard's incredible production. As Bomani Jones noted Monday morning, Dwight led the NBA in rebounding in a down year. Everyone is still harping on Howard's supposed terrible offense. Over the last five years combined, with players with at least 5,000 minutes and usage rates over 20 percent, who has the highest True Shooting percentage? Steve Nash, then Kevin Durant, then LeBron James, then James Harden, then Andrew Bynum, then ... Dwight Howard. You think Dwight doesn't have any moves, no post game? He's averaging 18 points per game for his career, has four seasons above 20 points per game, and one up at 23 ppg. He's in the top 100 all-time in per-game scoring, and is currently No. 16 all-time in True Shooting, which also includes his awful free throw shooting. He's not one of the league's best five offensive players. (I'd go with LeBron, Durant, Harden, Chris Paul and Travis Outlaw.) But Howard might be in the top 10 when healthy ... on offense. He's almost certainly top 20. And on defense? At the most important defensive position? He's a perennial contender for No. 1. He's really damn good.
3. This is a pervasive thing now.
I don't want Dwight without the ideal Dwight roster. He's not good enough to be worth it per any situation.— Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) June 30, 2013
There are but a few franchise players in the NBA. Players you throw yourselves at. Players you would take and make the centerpiece of your roster. LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and Howard are those players, in my opinion. In the recent past, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Dwyane Wade and Tim Duncan would have fit the bill, but time has crept up on them. Kyrie Irving may get the treatment down the line.
The context of Strauss's comment is about the question of whether the Warriors should offer to give up Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes in a theoretical Howard sign-and-trade. The merits of that aside, the idea that a player the caliber of Dwight is someone you decline if you don't already have a Dwight-ready roster is just crazy. You make it work. MVP contenders -- real MVP contenders -- don't grow on trees. You make it work. You lose a stretch four to get him? You find another stretch four. Harrison Barnes is not some sort of irreplaceable asset at this point. You make it work.
This doesn't apply to lesser stars like, say, Carmelo Anthony. To get MVP-caliber production out of 'Melo, you need the right fit, the right coach, the right system. To get MVP-caliber production out of Howard, you need a ball and a gym. To win a title with anyone -- including LeBron, in case we'd forgotten -- you need to optimize everything and find some luck. But a player like Howard is an amazing jumpstart on that path. You don't pass that up because of fit.
4. How I wish Daryl Morey had a board on Pinterest titled "Dwight Night" with all sorts of quirky DIY projects with which to woo Howard. Pulling Yao Ming on a Skype call-in is solid, but a pirate-themed dessert party and a hot dog regatta? SOLD.
5. Kobe Bryant will apparently sit in on the Lakers' pitch to Dwight on Tuesday. Howard has an amazing opportunity here, especially if he has decided to go to Houston. He can make Kobe grovel, or die tryin'. I'd find it impossible to resist.
6. Despite all my glowing talk about Howard's production above, the Rockets need one more thing to cross the threshold into title contender: a defensive guard or wing. Howard fixes a lot defensively, but I'm skeptical Houston can slow a parade of slashers attacking him. If the Rockets can land Howard and find a way to grab Tony Allen as a third guard, then we're talking about a real title contender.