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Dwight Howard an intriguing back-up plan for Celtics

A new rumor has emerged pointing to the Celtics and Hawks as Dwight Howard favorites. Even though Kevin Durant and Al Horford may rank ahead of the team's old Orlando adversary, D12 still plays an important role in continuing to develop the team's image.

Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

Today feels like Christmas Eve. No certainties are in place. The madness that is NBA free agency injected with the steroids that is the cap increase for the 2016-17 season begins at 12:01 a.m. Before that a single key factor has emerged amid the speculation of what Boston will see under the tree in July, they are players on multiple high-profile free agents.

It is unprecedented the way the Celtics have been able to make enough strides both from a cap and notoriety standpoint that they've been able to get at the table with the top free agent of a summer in Kevin Durant or be so deeply connectedto an all-star like Al Horford. But behind the scenes a possibly more important development could be brewing into the official headline of Boston's offseason, their rumored mutual interest with Dwight Howard.

Kevin O'Connor wrote at length about how good Howard would be from as basketball standpoint yesterday amid news that the Celtics will be meeting with him and Atlanta but today a rumor emerged that those two teams will be the finalists to sign him.

This creates an interesting cross-section between the Hawks and Celtics, historically linked rivals, who are both currently situated in the middle of the eastern conference looking to find the key to directing themselves upward. The easiest route for Boston would be landing Durant in combination with Horford. That will be the team's priority as they travel to New York to make the enticing pitch that Marc Stein states will be needed to remove K.D. from Oklahoma where he has spent his entire career.

That's where Howard comes into play. Perhaps the most intriguing free agent this summer because of the pure unlikelihood that he ends up back with his team, the Houston Rockets, who fell under so much turmoil a season ago the team made efforts to dump him at the trade deadline. Chemistry is absolutely a concern when it comes to Howard who has had brush-ups that previously sent him packing from Orlando and the Los Angeles Lakers. That may be why other teams, according to Sefko, aren't in the picture even with money flying everywhere.

What's less clear is what Atlanta's fascination with Howard is, for him the team represents playing in his hometown. That is what could be the deciding factor in whether or not he's in green on opening night 2016. If Horford departs there would seemingly be an emphasis to replace him with another big name but to what gain? Atlanta's issues this summer seem to be starting with the fact that they don't want to divvy up the necessary contracts to resign Horford or even fellow free agent Kent Bazemore. If those two depart, where does Howard's arrival bring the Hawks in the east alone?

From a Celtics perspective the contract is important. Calvin Watkins revealed that Howard is pursuing a $24-million contract but didn't reveal at what length, which brings up the flexibility factor. Without knowing Howard's motives for signing, the C's would get an enormous boost from a good old "prove-it" one-year deal with the veteran big. For starters it would allow the team to see an immediate upgrade on the interior in two crucial areas of struggle over the past few seasons; interior defense and rebounding. For all his regressions over the years, those remain the two strengths of Dwight's game at and at an elite level.

There'd be something in it for the player too. As stated his intentions aren't well-known but from an outside perspective if he won and succeeded on the court with the Celtics there could be greater, long-term money available to him in '17.

Motive is very important though when it comes to the Atlanta/Boston decision. If Howard wants extra years and security now then Atlanta may be more willing to give him that then Danny Ainge, obsessed with flexibility and chemistry. There are reasons to believe the Hawks would shy away from the idea as well, especially considering team centerpiece Paul Millsap is likely an upcoming free agent in the pivotal summer of 2017.

There are so many factors at play here, as there always are in the offseason but one thing is for sure; the most intriguing proposition for Boston is that, as Jeff joked, Howard seems to be a "plan Z" for the Celts. The idea that Boston would even have a seat at the table with Howard in year's past would have been enticing, now Las Vegas has the team pinned in as favorites to sign him. All part of the master plan, making Boston a legitimate destination for NBA talent. Thanks to Brad Stevens, Ainge, Isaiah Thomas, and all the others who have shaped the identity of the team they may already be well on their way. A Howard signing may not move the needle much next year but could serve as a powerful symbol that the C's are continuing to rise as free agency players.

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