Dwight Howard's decision won't shift NBA's balance of power


Sometime Friday, Dwight Howard is expected to announce his dramatic free-agent decision, and one lucky NBA team will feel compelled to throw a party and maybe shoot off some fireworks.

This is a big deal, so huge that the media has reported Howard updates by the hour all week. After his final team meeting before the holiday, Howard, emotionally conflicted and unsure exactly where he was going, drove off in a white Ferrari with tinted windows.

If he needs more time to think, that’s understandable. But if he picks a team Friday, that’s even better, because everyone is tired of hearing about it.

“Our reaction to the Howard stuff is we think it’s between Houston and the Lakers,” LVH oddsmaker Jeff Sherman said, “with an outside shot of Dallas.”

When the decision comes down, no parties involved in the soap opera should plan a parade for next June.

“I don’t think whichever team Howard goes to is going to be that much of a threat to win the title next year,” Sherman said.

If Howard chooses the Lakers, who have appeared almost pathetic in their desperate pursuit to keep him, the best team in Los Angeles next season still will be the Clippers.

At the LVH sports book, the Lakers are posted at 40-1 to win the NBA championship. If Howard returns, those odds would get adjusted to 25-1. The Clippers’ odds are 15-1.

“I think the Clippers should be 10-1,” said Sherman, who posted the Rockets’ odds at 15-1 and will drop them to 25-1 if Houston loses out on Howard.

It’s early in the offseason, yet there has been plenty of significant movement from coast to coast. It started with Boston dealing its coach, Doc Rivers, to the Clippers, who were in position to convince the top free agent available, point guard Chris Paul, to stay in LA.

The Clippers, 56-26 last season, needed to surround Paul with shooters, so they orchestrated a three-team trade to acquire a pair of good ones, J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley, while sending promising point guard Eric Bledsoe to Phoenix.

“I like Bledsoe a lot, but it’s not the important thing to have a backup point guard to Paul,” said Sherman, who sees the Clippers as serious contenders in the Western Conference.

Rivers, one of the best coaches in the league, brings an instant boost in credibility and leadership to the Clippers.

The Celtics, who allowed Ray Allen to take his 3-point shooting talents to Miami last summer, completely blew up their veteran roster by sending Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to Brooklyn. Jason Kidd retired as the New York Knicks’ backup point guard to coach the Nets, and while he has a lot to learn on the bench, at least he has a much more talented team.

“I like what the Nets did as far as this year,” Sherman said. “I really think they have a one-year window to win with those guys. After that, I don’t know where that team is going to go.”

The LVH adjusted the Nets’ odds to win the title from 40-1 to 15-1, and not because of Kidd.

Boston hired a kid to lead its rebuilding project, 36-year-old Brad Stevens from Butler. He lost only 49 games in six years as a college coach, and he’ll probably lose more than that in one season with the Celtics. Stevens will get $22 million and time to turn it around, and if he fails, he could return to campus to follow Mike Krzyzewski at Duke or coach in the Big Ten. Boston’s odds were 100-1 before and after the Stevens hiring.

One non-playoff team that could make a move up in the East is Cleveland, which drafted UNLV freshman Anthony Bennett No. 1 overall. Bennett’s immediate impact might be minimal, but he can help a rising team led by point guard Kyrie Irving, the top pick in 2011.

Irving played 59 games last season, when the Cavaliers finished 24-58. With Irving and Dion Waiters in the backcourt, and Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao and Bennett up front, Cleveland can improve by 10 or more wins.

William Hill sports books posted the Cavaliers’ win total for the 2013-14 regular season at 31½, and added a prop on them to make the playoffs (No minus-700, Yes plus-500).

“I think it’s a great spot for the Cavaliers to step up, and not just because of Bennett,” said Micah Roberts of The Linemakers on SportingNews.com.

But the biggest story is Howard, who loves being the center of attention except when he’s at the free-throw line. He’s a great defensive player but an offensive liability late in games, and, as Kobe Bryant lectured, he needs to learn how to be a winner.

“This guy is going to have to toughen up,” said Sherman, who called Howard “more of a goofball” with “too many deficiencies.”

So hold off on the fireworks show. Even if the goofball returns to the Lakers, the Clippers will be tougher.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.