Sources: Dwight Howard grants Hawks, Celtics first free-agency meetings

The Atlanta Hawks and Boston Celtics are the first known teams to secure face-to-face recruiting meetings with free-agent big man Dwight Howard, according to league sources.

Sources told ESPN that Howard, 30, is likely to meet with as many as five teams in free agency, with a return to the Houston Rockets widely seen as unlikely after Howard declined his $23.2 million player option for next season.

Teams can officially begin negotiating with free agents at 12:01 a.m. ET Friday. Howard will hold meetings in Atlanta on Friday, then in Las Vegas on Saturday, according to a league source.

The Miami Heat, sources said, have not yet booked a meeting with Howard in free agency, but could emerge as a more serious Howard suitor after registering preliminary interest in him.

ESPN reported earlier Tuesday that the Hawks, while still trying to convince Kevin Durant to grant a face-to-face sitdown, have been weighing a run at Howard to pair him with Al Horford in their frontcourt. Howard, a three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, is a native of Atlanta.

Horford is also a free agent this summer and will receive considerable outside interest.

Before Howard opted for free agency by declining his 2016-17 option, ESPN's Calvin Watkins reported that some members of the Rockets' organization were lobbying Howard to stay.

But the recent arrival of new head coach Mike D'Antoni, under whom Howard never clicked when both were with the Los Angeles Lakers, encouraged interested teams to pursue Howard this summer.