It’s pretty much a forgone conclusion that Dwight Howard has played his final game with the Houston Rockets.
Coming off a discouraging season for both the player and the team, Howard can opt out of his contract this summer.
It would be a sound financial decision for the eight-time All-Star, who is set to earn $23.3 million in 2016-17, the final year of his contract.
With the salary cap increasing due to new television revenue, Howard will likely find himself earning more under a new max deal. It presents the 30-year-old center with one last opportunity to cash in on a long-term deal.
Despite all the evidence that he’s not going to be back with Houston, Howard has refused to confirm that he plans to opt out.
Though, he came close to drawing that conclusion in a recent interview with ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan:
“To be honest, I have had some conversations with close friends on what would happen if I do opt out. But I haven’t really come out and said, ‘I’m going to opt out and do this and that.’ I just can’t focus on that right now,” Howard said. “We didn’t have the kind of season we wanted, and I didn’t have the kind of season I wanted and it was really upsetting to me.”
To be clear, Howard’s analysis of the Rockets’ 2015-16 season is spot on. A year after making it to the Western Conference Finals, Houston finished with a 41-41 record and was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.
As it relates to Howard, he put up his worst statistical season since he was a rookie all the way back in 2004-05. The big man averaged just 13.7 points and 11.8 rebounds.
While Howard is on the wrong side of 30, is seen as an enigmatic figure and saw his numbers take a plunge this past season, there’s still going to be a ton of interest in his services.
Even if Howard wanted to return to the Rockets, he would still be smart to opt out for a long-term deal. Of course, that hypothetical is based on a false premise that Houston actually wants him back. All indications here are that the team is fully prepared to move on.
With the NBA free agent market set to be loaded with a ton of talent, this is one situation to keep an eye on. Howard still boasts that elite-level interior presence. And in reality, he could be that missing link for a team looking to contend for a title.