Howard becomes a free agent this summer unless he opts in to another season with the Rockets. If he opts in, he would earn $23.2 million for the 2016-17 season.
It appears Howard will move toward free agency, where he expects to have multiple suitors.
“I think it would be good for the city,” O’Neal said Monday of Howard returning to Orlando. “First of all, after the first time he left, letting a big young guy get away, it shouldn’t happen a second time. All the puzzle [pieces] have to fit.”
Howard was the No. 1 overall pick of the 2004 NBA draft and spent eight seasons with the Magic before getting traded to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Howard elected to opt in to the final year of his contract with Orlando before he was eventually traded. It left plenty of bad feelings on both sides.
“If you have respect for one another, I think you have to delete the word differences 'cause business is always going to be business,” O’Neal said. “The DeVos family [which owns the Magic] I have respect for. It can definitely work, as a general manager and owner we’re not just going to be bringing people back, we’re trying to get to that next level. If that guy can’t get us to the next level, then it don’t make sense.”
This has been a frustrating season for Howard because he’s averaging just 13.8 points per game, his lowest average since his rookie season (12.0 a game with Orlando). Howard is grabbing 11.8 rebounds per game, but his defensive rating per 100 possessions is 104, which ties the same mark he had his rookie season.
Getting touches is another problem with Howard as he’s averaging just 8.4 field goal attempts per game, lowest since his rookie season. During a five-game stretch in March, Howard averaged 10.4 field goal attempts, but over the past 11 games he’s attempting a poor 5.2 shot attempts per game.
Part of the reason is the Rockets are relying on more outside shooting and basically ignoring him in the set offense.
O’Neal said that’s no excuse.
“It should be easier,” he said. “A lot of people look at it as glass half empty. I look at it as almost full. You got everybody shooting jumpers, guess what? Middle is open, right? You got everybody shooting jumpers, middle is wide open. Every time I played against a big guy who shot a jumper, that just told me he didn’t want to be inside, and I would pound him some more and I would purposely get an offensive foul to let you know that I’m coming, elbows up, all up in your chest, let you know I’m coming. The fact everybody is shooting jumpers, right now, I’d average $40 million in this league I promise you, especially with the new CBA and nobody wants to play inside.”