The 76ers are about to have a reunion, just not the one that was expected.
Free-agent reserve center Dwight Howard agreed Friday night to a one-year guaranteed veteran minimum deal of $2.56 million with the Sixers, according to league sources. Players are allowed to sign free-agent deals at 12:01 p.m. Sunday.
This move reunites Howard with Daryl Morey, the new Sixers president of basketball operations. As the general manager of the Houston Rockets, Morey signed Howard to a three-year, $70 million free-agent deal back on July 13, 2013.
This time around, he got the soon-to-be 35-year-old at a cap-friendly bargain. Sources had said there was a real chance that center Nerlens Noel, 26, could reunite with the Sixers.
But the team got Howard instead.
He averaged 7.5 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks this past season as the Los Angeles Lakers’ backup center. Howard played a key role as the Lakers won their 17th NBA title, and it appeared he would remain in Los Angeles.
The free-agency period began at 6 p.m. Friday. At 7:17 p.m., he announced on Twitter that he was returning to the Lakers, stating: “I’m staying right where I belong. Laker nation I love y’all. Purple and gold never gets old.”
That tweet was deleted within five minutes. The Inquirer confirmed at 8:35 that the 16-year veteran was heading to the Sixers instead.
A league source said Howard was upset because he felt the Lakers reneged on a one-year, $3 million handshake deal, which prompted his tweet. However, Yahoo Sports said sources within the organization were adamant that no formal offer was made, stating it was only a “deal concept.” The miscommunication forced him to delete the tweet.
At the time, Morey and the Sixers were aggressively pursuing Howard. Sixers three-time All-Star Joel Embiid even joined in the recruiting process, according to the report. So Howard agreed to join the Sixers after not hearing back from the Lakers.
This comes one day after the Sixers notified Norvel Pelle that he was going to be waived. Pelle’s contract for the 2020-21 season would have become guaranteed for $1.5 million if he was not waived before Friday night.
After Pelle’s release, Embiid and Paul Reed, who was drafted 58th overall in Wednesday’s draft, were the only centers on the Sixers’ roster. The thought was that waiving Pelle could set up the return of Noel. The Sixers originally acquired Noel, the sixth overall pick in the 2013 draft, in a draft-night trade from the New Orleans Pelicans for All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday.
Instead, the team got Howard, an eight-time All-Star and three-time league defensive player of the year. He also won back-to-back shot-blocking titles.
Howard has averaged 16.7 points, 12.3 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks in 1,113 career games with 1,045 starts. He will serve as a solid backup option for Embiid.