Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Dwight Howard to meet with Celtics

The Celtics have secured one of the first meetings with free agent center Dwight Howard.

Dwight Howard is going to meet with the Boston Celtics and the Atlanta Hawks once free agency begins, according to sources at ESPN.

Howard became an unrestricted free agent after opting out of the final year of his contract with the Houston Rockets.

Judging by the teams that he’s choosing to meet with first, it seems like he may want to move back to the East where he had his best years with the Orlando Magic. Both the Celtics and the Hawks are playoff-caliber teams with solid coaching, which also may play a role in his decision process.

Coaching is one of the many reasons why Howard is not expected to return to Houston. The Rockets hired Mike D’Antoni as head coach, even though Howard and D’Antoni had issues when they were both with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Howard isn’t the player that he once was, but he still would be a good fit for the Celtics. Guys like Amir Johnson, Jared Sullinger, Tyler Zeller and Kelly Olynyk have been good as role players, but Howard would be a significant upgrade at the center position.

Howard’s chances of signing with Boston might depend on who else the Celtics sign and how much money Howard wants. The Celtics have shown interest in Kevin Durant and other top free agents, so Howard will have to wait and see where other players go before making his decision. Howard probably still believes that he is a max contract player, especially in an offseason where a player like Harrison Barnes might get a max deal. However, since the Celtics probably won’t offer a 30-year-old with injury issues the max, a compromise will be necessary in order to get a deal done.

For the right price, bringing in Howard would be a great move for Boston. The Celtics were a piece away from being a top-two team in the East last season, and Howard could be that piece.

Although many people try to label Howard as a team-killer, the facts have always contradicted this opinion. He led the Magic to the playoffs in six consecutive seasons and an NBA Finals appearance before being traded. The Magic haven’t come close to reaching the playoffs in any of the four seasons since Howard left.

The Lakers also made the playoffs in Howard’s only year with the team, but they’ve finished each of the three seasons since his departure as one of the bottom-two teams in the Western Conference standings.

The Rockets made the playoffs in all three of Howard’s years with the team as well. After missing much of the 2014-15 season due to injury, Howard showed that he was willing to accept a reduced role to help the team when he played the role of James Harden's sidekick during the playoffs. The Rockets made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals that year.

Howard could play a similar role in Boston. Howard could focus on defense and rebounding, while Isaiah Thomas could be the first option on offense.

Howard isn’t the player that he used to be, but the player that he is now is still a great option for a Celtics team that could use a new starting center.  

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