Dwight Howard free agency: Why the Atlanta Hawks could be a viable darkhorse

USA TODAY Sports

The Hawks are the longest shot of the five teams chasing Howard, but they have some advantages that could convince him to make a surprising decision.

Never say never. The Atlanta Hawks might be the least likely candidate to sign free-agent center Dwight Howard, but he is indecisive and picky, and because he listened to the Hawks' pitch, they are at least in the conversation.

Howard met with the Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Golden State Warriors and Hawks to discuss his options in free agency, and then he disappeared to Colorado (or Montana) to make his big decision. As the NBA collectively waits for the outrageously-talented big man to choose his landing spot, it's worth nothing that there are compelling arguments each suitor can make.

Peachtree Hoops: More on the Hawks' offseason

Here's why the Hawks, in Howard's hometown, could be the darkhorse landing spot for the summer of 2013's biggest free agent.

No place like home

Howard knows Atlanta. He attended Southwest Christian Academy and become one of the best high school centers before being taken first overall in the 2004 NBA Draft. The Hawks don't have any blatantly-obvious selling points, and it's up to general manager Danny Ferry to rework the franchise into an appealing spot for stars.

Ferry told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he believes the city is the most appealing lure for NBA stars:

"We're in the process of working to build a better image, a better program," Ferry said. "I'm confident players will want to come to Atlanta. This is a city where players like to play -- because they like to live here. But we are going to make it a great place to play. The players will know that we're going to invest in making it championship-caliber team, on and off the court."

Of all the players in the league, Howard should know Atlanta.

Being close to his family and childhood friends is obviously the pull that the Hawks hope will give them a legitimate shot at Howard. If that is more important to the big man as it initially appears, then Atlanta just might have a shot.

Molding the future

Whereas the Rockets, Mavericks, Warriors and Lakers all have foundations set, the Hawks don't. That could be played up as a good thing for Atlanta to land Howard.

Newly hired coach Mike Budenholzer has the tools to make Howard the centerpiece of the offense, but Howard can voice his opinions about who's around him in that offense.

Ferry has opened up flexibility to the extreme with only a couple players on the payroll heading into next season, and there's enough cap space for the Hawks to sign two max-contract players this summer and next. If Howard joins the Hawks, he could play a valuable role in recruiting top-notch teammates and having a say in the targets.

Whether that includes childhood friend Josh Smith, who is also a free agent this summer, remains to be seen.

Some pieces in place

Atlanta's roster could look barren, but where it is in regard to the other suitors is probably being overlooked.

Al Horford is signed through the 2015-16 season, and putting Howard alongside another All-Star big man would immediately give the Hawks one of the most dangerous front lines in the NBA. After all, Budenholzer has first-hand experience working with two big men in the post. He joined the San Antonio Spurs as an assistant in 1996, a year before the Twin Towers era of Tim Duncan and David Robinson began.

Additionally, the Hawks have perimeter scorer Lou Williams in tow for another two seasons, and will sign deadeye shooter Kyle Korver to a four-year deal.

It might be a long shot for Atlanta to land Howard. But never say never.

More from SB Nation:

The NBA's top 90 free agents | All NBA free agency news

Dwight Howard finishes meetings, will decide soon

Tyreke Evans headed to NOLA in 3-team deal

Flannery: Danny Ainge stays in character by hiring Brad Stevens

Grading the NBA free agent deals

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