Dwight Howard’s innate unpredictability puts his future with the Los Angeles Lakers in serious doubt. Once this season ends, the 27-year-old will officially become a free agent who is able to sign with any team in the NBA. L.A. can offer the most sizable contract and most appealing locale of any potential suitor. But given the troubles that have befallen this franchise over the past 49 games, it is anything but a lock that Howard will actually re-sign.
Before anyone knew how hurt he really was, prior to it becoming clear that the star-laden Lakers lacked any semblance of cohesion or chemistry, Howard was already expressing doubts about putting on the purple and gold. He didn’t want to play second-fiddle to Kobe Bryant. He didn’t want to be in Shaquille O’Neal’s shadow. He wanted to party with Jay-Z and catch alley-oops from Deron Williams in Brooklyn. He settled for Los Angeles; his first choice was the Nets.
Howard’s lukewarm desire to actually play in Tinseltown makes this coming offseason all the more complicated. No team can offer him a bigger contract than the Lakers – but there are several that can offer him better circumstances (in his mind).
Recently, Chris Broussard of ESPN broke down the three teams who will make a serious run at Howard this summer. Per his reporting:
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Atlanta, Dallas and Houston will be Howard's chief suitors when he enters free agency July 1. But the Lakers can offer Howard a five-year contract worth roughly $118 million while every other team in the league can offer him only about $88 million over four years. The extra $30 million means a lot to Howard, sources said, and is definitely a major advantage for the Lakers. With the injuries he's recently suffered to his back and shoulder, Howard might be less inclined to give up the extra year of security.
The idea of potentially losing their big marquee offseason acquisition is no doubt troubling, but the Lakers aren’t willing to do anything hasty about it just yet. Sources have told ESPNLosAngeles.com's Ramona Shelburne that the Lakers are "very confident" Howard will stay put.
At this point, it seems like L.A. brass is content with the idea that this year is what it is. They will not mortgage the future by moving Howard just to have an outside chance at challenging for a title this season.
“Well, my back is not all the way there -- 75 percent. My shoulder is day-to-day. There are days where it feels really good and then get in the game, get hit and it's not as good,” Howard told CBS Sports recently. “For right now, I just have to learn how to play through it and try to mix up my game. I'm known for always coming up, and that leaves me vulnerable to guys hitting me, so I'm going to try to play 75 and keep the ball up here.”
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Will Howard actually leave the Lakers for Atlanta, Houston or Dallas? The smart money says no. But if any player would go against the grain in this particular situation, it’s definitely him.