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P. LEAGUE+ & T1 LEAGUE/Dwight Howard's return to Taiwan in question over new contract

06/08/2023 10:22 PM
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Dwight Howard of the Taoyuan Leopards plays in the All-Star Game of the basketball
Dwight Howard of the Taoyuan Leopards plays in the All-Star Game of the basketball's T1 LEAGUE in this photo taken in Taipei on Feb. 28, 2023. CNA file photo

Taipei, June 8 (CNA) Although basketball fans in Taiwan are looking forward to seeing Dwight Howard play in the country next season, the former NBA superstar said that could be "difficult" due to the pay cut the Taoyuan Leopards have proposed in contract negotiations.

According to a report by TVBS Wednesday, the eight-time NBA All-Star and the Leopards, the franchise he played for during the T1 LEAGUE 2022-23 season in Taiwan, have reached an impasse over salary, which reduces the chance local fans will get to see American Superman Season 2.

"I was offered a contract which was 65 percent less than they gave me the first time I came to Taiwan, and I felt like that was very disrespectful," said Howard.

"I felt like I brought value to the team. I was very disappointed. I felt like I deserve more," the 7-footer added.

Also, Howard said the Leopards told him one of the reasons is that he failed to lead the team to the playoffs, which he does not accept, according to TVBS.

Dwight Howard gets emotional at Taoyuan International Airport before leaving Taiwan on May 30. CNA photo May 30, 2023
Dwight Howard gets emotional at Taoyuan International Airport before leaving Taiwan on May 30. CNA photo May 30, 2023

In his first season in Taiwan, the 37-year-old Howard played nearly 34.5 minutes per game while scoring 23.2 points, 16.2 rebounds and five assists, ranking second, first and fifth in the league, respectively.

The future Hall of Famer's influence off the court also saw the Leopards' home court at the National Taiwan Sport University Arena packed to the rafters with 10,000 plus fans per game since November, the T1 LEAGUE website shows.

However, the Leopards finished last in the six-team league after winning only six of 30 games in the regular season, two wins fewer than last season.

When Howard left Taiwan on the night of May 30, few Leopards staffers were seen in his company at Taoyuan International Airport. Many netizens criticized the Leopards for the send-off, but the club explained that its PR personnel and photographers were all with Howard.

Taoyuan Leopards CEO Johnny Chang attends a press conference in Taoyuan Tuesday. CNA photo June 6, 2023
Taoyuan Leopards CEO Johnny Chang attends a press conference in Taoyuan Tuesday. CNA photo June 6, 2023

Asked to respond to Howard's remarks Wednesday, the Leopards, though not confirming them, said any changes to the contract were made because Howard played only two-thirds of the 30-game regular season.

According to the new contract the Leopards proposed, a certain amount of Howard's salary would be fixed, while the rest is incentive-based depending on how many games he plays and how many wins and losses he contributes, the Leopards Chief Executive Officer Johnny Chang (張建偉) told CNA Wednesday.

Chang described the offer as "mutually beneficial," while also aiming to encourage Howard to play more and better. For example, the bonus for wins is 35 times more than it was last season.

Saying that negotiations are still ongoing, the Leopards refused to discuss the details of contract talks with Howard Thursday, including whether the total amount in the proposed offer is more or less than in the first contract.

While the details of Howard's first contract were never revealed, his monthly payment was at least US$200,000, the Leopards' former general manager Brett Su (蘇翊傑) said when announcing the former NBA superstar's addition to the team last November.

Taoyuan Leopards
Taoyuan Leopards' former general manager Brett Su. File photo courtesy of Leopards April 10, 2022

T1 LEAGUE commentator Chen Kai (陳楷), though not familiar with the contract details, said based on the information released so far, Howard might still get at least 75 percent of his salary if he plays every single game next season, which is better than the two-thirds cut Howard claimed.

However, Chen said it is unlikely an NBA star like Howard will accept a contract in which most of the salary is not guaranteed, "because the contract numbers of most NBA players we talk about are fully guaranteed."

The impact of Howard on Taiwan basketball is "absolutely comprehensive," but the Leopards may be reluctant to shoulder the cost alone, Chen added.

Howard once named the local players he wanted to play with after the 2023 T1 All-Star Game on Feb. 28, including Chiang Yu-an (蔣淯安) of the TaiwanBeer HeroBears, Kevin Hu (胡瓏貿) of the Kaohsiung Aquas and the New Taipei CTBC DEA's Tseng Wen-ting (曾文鼎) and Mohanned al Bachir Gadiaga, the best players in their respective teams.

On Tuesday, Chang said the star-studded lineup would be "an ideal one," which the franchise would try its best to recruit and could give Howard a different focus other than salary if formed.

For now, it is way too early to tell what Howard will decide to do.

In a social media post on Wednesday where he called his over-six-month period in Taiwan "more than basketball," Howard asked people in Chinese to comment at the bottom telling him whether and when he should return to Taiwan.

Meanwhile, in a recent exclusive interview with The Observer Howard also said "I'm not retired from the NBA yet," and "I would love to help the Sacramento Kings contend for a title" if given the chance.

However, even if Howard does not return to Taiwan next season, Chang, who traveled to Europe and the United States to look for other foreign players, suggested Leopard's fans will still have plenty to look forward to next season.

Half of those players are in the NBA, including players with bigger names than Howard, which means higher pay, but Chang said that is not among the franchise's concerns.

"The Leopards' culture is to keep bringing high-level impacts to Taiwan basketball," he said.

(By Huang Chiao-wen and Chao Yen-hsiang)


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