The Hawks have entered the Dwight Howard Sweepstakes.
Howard is an unrestricted free agent as of July 1 and the Hawks are one of several teams that will meet with the Lakers center, according to a person familiar with the situation. The Hawks will make their pitch this week.
According to various other reports, Howard will also meet with the Rockets, Mavericks and Warriors before finally talking to his current employer. According to one report, the meeting with the Rockets was scheduled for just after 12:01 Eastern time in Los Angeles.
Howard, from Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy, is considered the top unrestricted free agent on the market. The Hawks have $33 million in salary cap space and have the ability to sign two free agents to maximum deals. The Hawks, and other teams, can offer Howard a maximum deal of four years, $88 million. The Lakers, who have started a public campaign to keep Howard, can offer a maximum deal of five years, $118 million.
Chris Paul, the other top unrestricted free agent, is likely off the market and will re-sign with the Clippers.
Hawks general manager Danny Ferry and new head coach Mike Budenholzer are among the Hawks personnel who will visit free agents. The Hawks must reshape their roster with seven players from last season unrestricted free agents including Josh Smith.
“We have to continue to build our roster and hopefully have a good mix of young guys that you develop and grow,” Ferry said following last week’s NBA draft about the start of the free-agent process. “Those help your program be sustainable. It’s also important to have guys who have some experience, have some feel for the game and feel for the NBA. We will look to do that coming forward.”
The 27-year-old Howard was drafted with the first overall pick of the 2004 draft by the Magic. He spent eight seasons in Orlando before being traded to the Lakers last year. He averaged 17.1 points and 12.4 rebounds last season following back surgery.
In other Hawks news, the team extended a qualifying offer to guard Jeff Teague, making him a restricted free agent, but not to forward/center Ivan Johnson.
The move allows the Hawks to match any offer that Teague receives from another team.
Johnson becomes an unrestricted free agent and is free to sign with any team, including the Hawks. The Hawks lose the right to match an offer from another team.
Teams had to make qualifying offers before July 1. A qualifying offer constitutes a one-year guaranteed contract.
Teague played in 80 games last season, his fourth with the team after being drafted 19th overall in 2009. He averaged 14.6 points, third on the team. The point guard led the team with 7.2 assists per game.
Johnson spent the past two seasons with the Hawks after making the team out of a tryout camp. He averaged 6.6 points and 3.9 rebounds in 69 games last season.
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