Dwight Howard made the right decision and other notes from the NBA free agency whirlwind

Ronald Martinez

Paul Flannery reviews the wild, woolly free agency period to date.

While the execution was typically off-message and hilariously hectic at the end, in the cool light of day it's very difficult to argue with the decision Dwight Howard made to spurn the Lakers and join the Rockets.

Still not 28 years old, Howard is joining a team with a young perimeter star in James Harden and an emerging do-everything cornerman in Chandler Parsons. If some of the other complementary parts don't exactly mesh at the moment, there's little doubt that Daryl Morey and crew have a good idea of what to do about it, considering their other tradeable assets and manageable salary structure on hand.

Howard could have stayed in Los Angeles, where big men always eventually wind up, and given a year or two there, he probably would have been able to establish something of lasting value once Kobe Bryant ultimately stops being Kobe Bryant.

That's not an outright criticism of Bean either. He's earned the right to do whatever the hell he pleases and if that means going out as he lived, then all the more power to him. Howard's goofball stylings never met halfway with Kobe's psycho killer edge and the blame is probably on both of them for failing to recognize what could have been a solid pairing. Oh well.

Howard didn't want to play second fiddle to Kobe and maybe in the back of his mind he didn't want to keep living in Shaq's outsized shadow either. Howard didn't choose L.A.: it chose him, and here is his chance to do it his way in a sizeable but comparably sleepier Southwestern city.

This may be the first mature decision Howard has made in his basketball career. The best thing for him and Harden to do, along with coach Kevin McHale, is come to an understanding on the court and win games. If they can do that, then the rest will take care of itself.

THE NETS ARE THE BEST TEAM IN NEW YORK

I'll allow that roughly 93.8 percent of the country doesn't care about this, but as child of the tri-state area I'm fascinated by the New York dynamic now that Mikhail Prokhorov has reiterated that he's not messing around.

And here's a mea culpa from me. I didn't think Billy King could pull off dealing for Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett (and Jason Terry) while not surrendering much of immediate value from his roster and easing the team's long-term salary commitment. So, good on ya Billy.

Pierce and KG are exactly what the Nets needed in terms of floor-spacing, offensive creativity and defensive chops. They also come with chips on their shoulders the size of the Zakim Bridge after getting exiled from Boston with a veterans' urgency to win right freaking now.

Of course, acquiring the remains of the Celtics Big Three comes with a huge amount of risk. They're old, number one. KG will likely shift back to the four, which is his preferred spot but also not his best one at this point in his career. Pierce will have to negotiate space on the wing with Joe Johnson, and the two weren't exactly best friends when Joe was a shy rookie.

While unloading Gerald Wallace helps the cap situation down the line, the picks King surrendered will make adding pieces and rebuilding extremely difficult once this quick run is over. But that's for another day because there's opportunity in the Eastern Conference -- and the Atlantic Division in particular -- to make a resounding move.

The Celtics and Sixers are obviously rebuilding and the Raptors are in a state of suspended animation while Masai Ujiri constructs the kind of team he wants. Outside of the Heat and the Pacers and Bulls there's an opening for a challenger. The Nets seemed to have moved past the Knicks in the pecking order.

New York's reaction to Brooklyn's big move was trading for Andrea Bargnani in a deal that has disaster written all over it. It's not just that Bargs doesn't play defense or rebound. He stopped being a good shooter three years ago and is coming off injury-plagued seasons that cost him 82 games the last two years. If his presence moves Carmelo Anthony back to the three then he effectively wipes out the Knicks' best matchup advantage from last season.

New York is also capped out and realizing that the new CBA isn't very forgiving when it comes to assembling the rest of the roster after the big-money players are in place. They got by last year with surprising contributions from veterans with just a little something more to give and some scouting finds in Chris Copeland and Pablo Prigioni.

If we learned nothing from the Nets' first season in Brooklyn it's that New York will always belong to the Knicks.

The vets are gone. Pablo is back, thankfully for the sanity of enlightened Knicks' fans, but Cope is bound for Indiana, who had a much greater appreciation for his talents during the playoffs Mike Woodson did. But hey, have fun with Bargs!

If we learned nothing from the Nets' first season in Brooklyn it's that New York will always belong to the Knicks. They are the alpha and the omega of NYC's basketball scene and the Nets were barely more of a blip than when they were in New Jersey. When a palace coup by your franchise point guard and a Game 7 loss at home in the playoffs barely registers a ripple then you know you've got a long way to go.

But Prokhorov cares not for any of that. He's going for it, damn it, and on July 10 the Nets look an awful lot better than they did when Nate Robinson danced on their graves in the playoffs.

THE MIDDLE CLASS IS GETTING WEIRD

With all the focus on tanking, it's easy to miss that just as many teams made moves to help them win now. The Mavs, Hawks and Bucks -- to name three -- could have decided to join the 76ers and Jazz in the tank. Instead they added an assembly line of mid-priced free agents in an attempt to remain competitive.

The Pistons, Pelicans and even the Bobcats decided to spend big money on players in a signal that they were no longer content to remain awful while waiting for some future lottery return. Whether signing Josh Smith, Tyreke Evans and Al Jefferson were good moves is another story, but they're going to try.

The team that may have helped itself the most is the Portland Trail Blazers, who spent years trying to recover from the doomed draft and develop experiment of the mid-Aughts. GM Neil Olshey smartly grabbed a solid and affordable center in Robin Lopez while adding productive veterans to what had been one of the worst benches in the league with Earl Watson and Dorell Wright.

Drafting C.J. McCollum, Allen Crabbe and buying extremely low on Thomas Robinson adds another infusion of young talent for Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard. Much depends on enigmatic big man LaMarcus Aldridge, but the Blazers look like a very solid club at least and a potential breakout team if everything goes right.

The league always has a top-heavy structure, but it's telling that so many teams willingly signed on for life in the vast middle. Honestly, it's hard to blame them. Teams in those markets don't always have the luxury of long rebuilds. At some point they have to be competitive and the fears of a handful of super teams matched up exclusively against clubs with no incentive to win is little more than a myth.

TEAMS THAT HELPED THE CAUSE

Houston: Obviously.
Portland: See above.
Booklyn: Provided KG and Pierce don't break down.
Indiana: Smartly re-signed David West to an equitable deal and moved quickly to fill out the bench with C.J. Watson and Copeland.
Chicago: Counting on a return to form from Derrick Rose, but Mike Dunleavy was a very nice get for what could be Miami's biggest threat.
Atlanta: Solid under-the-radar moves like Paul Millsap and DeMare Carroll to complement unheralded big man Al Horford means the Hawks will continue to be good. This is written in the league's by-laws somewhere.

WAIT AND SEE

Toronto: The Bargnani trade was a heist, but Masai Ujiri still has a lot of work to do for a team that could sneak into the lower echelon of the playoff chase but doesn't have a huge upside.
Washington: Slow and steady climb back to respectability with what looks like a solid draft. Time to meet those expectations.
New Orleans: Jrue Holiday is an emerging young point guard and Tyreke Evans is perfectly-suited to be one of the league's best Sixth Men, but man that frontline is looking thin.
Dallas: Not the big haul the Mavs were looking for but there's no way they're done yet.
Minnesota: Not a huge fan of Kevin Martin's game at this point, but he's exactly what the shooting-deprived Wolves needed. As long as big Pek comes back.
Clippers: There's nothing not to like in adding Doc Rivers, J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley but it feels like there's another big move to make up front.
Golden State: We'll need to see how Mark Jackson intends to use his trio of wings, but Andre Iguodala was born to be a complementary star on a team like this.

TANKS FOR THE MEMORIES

Boston: Picks galore and a handful of interesting young prospects to go with a bold coaching hire is not the worst way to start a massive rebuilding process, but what about Rondo?
Philadelphia: We'll see you in 2016.
Utah: It's debatable whether the Jazz could have done something at the trade deadline involving Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, but they elected to take the cap space and the sizeable contracts of Andris Biedrinis and Richard Jefferson instead. Like the Celtics, the Jazz have a bushel of draft picks and even better young talent in Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks, Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors.

WUT?

New York: Tyson Chandler may sue for non-support if he has to spend much time defending the backline alongside Bargs and Amar'e Stoudemire.
Detroit: There has to be another move because no one would willingly play Josh Smith at the three, right?
Milwaukee: Larry Drew, Zaza Pachulia and maybe Jeff Teague. It's like a lesser version of the Hawks, which is so Bucks.
Charlotte: I get why a team that's been so pathetically bad as the Bobcats would want to do something, but is Al Jefferson really the best use of resources for this team?
Denver: Lost George Karl, Masai Ujiri and Andre Iguodala and added J.J. Hickson. Not a good trend for a team that still has an intriguing mix of talent.

SLOW AND STEADY CLIMB FROM THE BOTTOM

Cleveland: Two new draft picks, a defensive-minded coach and a healthy return of Anderson Varejao mean the Cavs should be better. How much better depends on Kyrie Irving's development and how Mike Brown intends to use Tristan Thompson and Anthony Bennett.
Orlando: Nothing doing from the Magic other than adding Victor Oladipo to a very interesting young roster.
Phoenix: The rebuilding begins now and the Suns are clearly transitioning into something sustainable. New GM Ryan McDonough took qualified gambles on Alex Len and Archie Goodwin in the draft, while smartly scooping up Eric Bledsoe.
Sacramento: Finally, some stability and decision-making for the benefit of the franchise and not the wandering eyes of the Brothers Maloof. Still a long way to go.

THE SONG REMAINS THE SAME

Miami: Brought back everyone of consequence.
Memphis: Grabbing Kostas Koufos was one of the more underrated minor deals of the summer. Now to unleash Ed Davis.
San Antonio: Did what they had to do with Tiago Splitter and Manu Ginobli, while adding scoring wing Marco Belinelli. The song remains the same.
Oklahoma City: Still one of the best teams in the league and don't let anyone tell you otherwise, as long as Russell Westbrook returns healthy.

THE LAKERS

Call me crazy, but I'm kind of looking forward to watching three great competitors like Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol collectively fight against the dying of the light. With only Nash's contract on the books for 2014-15, every free agent rumor belongs to the Lakers now.

More from SB Nation:

LaMarcus Aldridge angling for trade to Bulls?

Kings still in mix for Monta Ellis

Knicks rumors: No Brand, but maybe World Peace

Ziller: Is Detroit the new Memphis? | Coach Rasheed's debut

Grading the NBA free agent deals

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