Rumors have started to swell over the past week regarding the possibility of the Atlanta Hawks landing superstar duo Chris Paul and Dwight Howard in what would be the biggest free agent coup since the Miami Heat assembled The Big Three. Howard and Paul have reportedly been texting about possible destinations of where to play throughout this entire past week.
ESPN Insider Kevin Pelton pegs Atlanta as the best and most realistic option for Howard and Paul to consider if they are set on playing with one another. According to Pelton, this is due in large part because Atlanta is one of very few teams that could sign both players to max contracts without making destructive roster changes. The Hawks have been anticipating this free agency for years now and GM Danny Ferry has intelligently rid the franchise of almost all long-term financial obligations to set them up for this summer. Atlanta has only three players under guaranteed contract next season in Al Horford, John Jenkins and Lou Williams, but the team would need to package Williams (not a bad contract, definitely an asset) and one of the first round picks (17 or 18) without taking back money in order to make room for the two new massive contracts. It is definitely doable, and the end result for the Hawks would hypothetically then be: Howard, Paul, Horford, Jenkins, the remaining draft picks, and free agents.
There are other possibilities for the duo out there though, namely a sign-and-trade deal that would bring Howard to the Clippers, since Chris Paul wants badly to stay in Los Angeles. However, the Clippers seem unwilling to part ways with Blake Griffin, Eric Bledsoe and DeAndre Jordan (which they would need to do) and the Lakers seem unwilling to help create the NBA’s next big super-team right in their own city. Houston has also emerged as a possible destination, but because Rockets are deadset on keeping Harden, they would need to completely gut their roster and part with many future draft picks, something that has to be unappealing to both sides. Detroit and Dallas are also two remote possibilities, but it is believed that they are not serious contenders.
Atlanta holds the top spot for now as the best option according to most sources, as they can provide the fastest track to a championship.
There are problems, however, for both players. Dwight apparently has no desire to play in his hometown Atlanta, sources close to Howard stating that he would only do so if it brought he and Chris Paul together. This certainly hurts the team’s marketing pitch of selling Howard on returning home, and it’s no help either that the team would not be able to re-sign Josh Smith alongside Howard and Paul. Smith and Howard have an extremely close relationship dating back to their early AAU days, Howard was also the best man at Smith’s wedding three years ago. Chris Paul’s problems with Atlanta are also personal. Outside of his desire to stay in Los Angeles, Paul is apparently still disgruntled over Atlanta snubbing him in the 2005 draft:
“It would be very tough for (Paul) to go to Atlanta,” the source said. “He loved Atlanta when they should have drafted him in ’05 but not so much since then. But hey, everybody is an option at this point.”
All things considered, the problems the Hawks face still pale in comparison to those that other potential suitors face, since at the end of the day Atlanta can offer far and away the best roster situation for a tandem desperate to win a title. It will be exciting to hear new rumors in the weeks leading up to July 1, when the free-agency period officially begins.