How will Howard handle head games?

Is Mark Cuban just playing head games with Dwight Howard? Troy Taormina/USA TODAY Sports

HOUSTON -- Mark Cuban's mouth doesn't roar without motivation.

Cuban's public shots at opposing players are never accidental. Cuban, who takes pride in being a master manipulator of the media, always has incentive when he makes inflammatory statements about superstars.

That was true during his long-running verbal sparring matches with Shaquille O'Neal. It was true when Cuban casually mentioned last year that the Los Angeles Lakers ought to consider using the amnesty clause to dump Kobe Bryant. And it was true when he opined that Dwight Howard made an immature mistake by deciding to sign with the Houston Rockets instead of the Dallas Mavericks this summer.

How many millions of dollars' worth of free marketing have Cuban's Mavs received over the years due to the media firestorms he's started with his digs? Heck, he's given Friday night's Mavs-Rockets game some big-time national buzz and stole some attention from Jerry Jones' circus locally.

That doesn't necessarily mean that Cuban's headline-grabbing jabs are good for the Mavs.

The memory of Kobe's "Amnesty THAT" performance -- a 38-point, 12-rebound, seven-assist, one-tweet masterpiece in the aftermath of Cuban's helpful suggestion -- is still fresh in the minds of Mavs fans. (Conspiracy theory: Cuban's primary reason for opening up the "amnesty Kobe" can of worms was to plant seeds of doubt about the Lakers' long-term future in a certain free-agent center's mind.)

It's probably not coincidental that Shaq averaged more points against the Mavs (26.4 per game) than any other team during his career, although Dallas' difficulty finding a decent center surely had something to do with that.

Why would it be any different with Dwight? Well, Howard doesn't exactly have a reputation for extraordinary mental toughness.

Marketing might not have been Cuban's sole motivation in this instance. Maybe he thought he could get into Howard's head, cluttered and confused as it might be.

Or maybe I'm giving Cuban too much credit. Maybe he's just mad that his sales pitch didn't sway Howard. If that's the case, the grapes would really be sour if Howard responds as well as Cuban's most notable previous superstar sparring partners.