In the end, it’s almost always about the money.Randy Johnson, Carlos Delgado, Zack Greinke, Shaquille O’Neal, Cliff Lee, etc., etc. They blame the summer heat, the traffic, the beach — we have none, of course. They’ll say what a nice visit they had. They’ll claim the offers were enticingly close. But in the end, it’s almost always about the money. Free agents like money. They like having their egos stroked and their bellies rubbed. And nothing strokes an ego more, it seems, than a huge green stack of Look What I Got’s. Maybe Dwight Howard is the exception. Maybe he likes the heat. Maybe he likes Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers, in particular the Caniac Combo with honey mustard sauce.But why would you think any of that? With free agents, it’s almost always about the money.It was money that brought Deion Sanders to the Dallas Cowboys. It was money that (wince) signed Terrell Owens and Erick Dampier and Chan Ho Park.Owner Mark Cuban and the Dallas Mavericks are only utilizing the system. Free agency has become the NBA’s annual Dance of the Veils, its high-dollar summertime eBay auction. Sometimes you get lucky. Sometimes (sigh) you end up with Mike Vanderjagt.Howard’s free agency courtship has dominated the NBA news for the past week. For Cuban and the Mavericks, it’s like finally scoring a date with the prom queen. They’ve had their eyes on Howard for weeks, months. And with good reason. This is a franchise that has employed at center — ever since that Roy Tarpley thing didn’t work out — the likes of Eric Montross, Shawn Bradley and Wang ZhiZhi.Three seasons ago, however, blessed with a real center, the Mavericks won the whole thing. With Howard, Dirk Nowitzki and coach Rick Carlisle, who knows? Carlisle knows how to get a team to the NBA Finals, and Cuban has the cabbage to help it get there. But rules are rules, and the league salary cap won’t allow Cuban to write the kind of check that the Los Angeles Lakers can. The notion of no state income tax makes for good radio and Twitter talk. But when was the last time you heard a big-money free agent say that he signed in Tornado Alley because it was cheaper than in New York or Los Angeles?No. Follow the money.Maybe Dwight Howard, though, is different. He already raised brows around the NBA for refusing to genuflect in the presence of the Lakers’ logo. Some have viewed Howard’s sulking in LA as puerile, at best, and a sign of inevitable drama to come. But wait a minute — seven teams in the Western Conference had a record that was just as good as or better than the Lakers last season. Howard may have just recognized it for the obvious. It’s the Lakers, not Disneyland, and then you also have to deal with Kobe Bryant. (Call 1-800-ASK-SHAQ for details).Maybe it means something that Howard’s two other very serious suitors, the Lakers and Houston Rockets, both have had to make planned offensive makeovers part of their free agency pitch. The Mavericks need no philosophical remodeling. They already know how to play Howard’s low post game.Howard also already knows what he’s getting in Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni. And Houston’s Kevin McHale? As a coach, he’s been to the NBA playoffs once — once.If Howard was smart Tuesday, he asked Dirk. The future Hall of Famer can tell D12 everything he needs to know about Carlisle, who has taken teams to the playoffs nine times and won it all in 2011 with the Mavericks.They made their pitch Tuesday — Carlisle, Nowitzki, Donnie Nelson and Cuban, the guy who writes the checks.Cuban probably reminded Howard, though, that if he can’t spend all of his NBA cap money on D12, he won’t be afraid to spend the rest of it on someone else. Winning reportedly was a frequent topic for Howard as he talked to teams Monday and Tuesday. With free agents, granted, it’s almost always about the money. But maybe this time Dwight Howard likes the heat.
Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @gilebreton