Any time a big name superstar opts to test the free agency market, speculation about him leaving his old team will follow. When that big name superstar is Dwight Howard, and when his old team is a ballclub he spent one disastrous season with, the volume of that speculation gets turned up tenfold.
Over the past month, Howard has made it abundantly clear that he will take his time and hear out any and all offers that franchises may have for him. Presently, in light of CBA constraints and the places he’d realistically go to, the 27-year-old big man only has a handful of legitimate options for what comes next. He could take the most money available and sign with the Lakers; he could take less money and sign with the Houston Rockets; or he could threaten to sign with the Rockets, and try to get the Lakers to trade him to the Brooklyn Nets. That’s basically it.
The two most likely outcomes right now are that either Howard will either stay with the Lakers or he’ll walk and sign for less with Houston. However, as reported by ESPN this weekend, all options are on the table.
The Rockets will have the cap space to sign Howard outright after the expected shedding of Thomas Robinson's contract, but sources say that the Rockets will certainly attempt to convince the Lakers to take in return Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin in a sign-and-trade deal for Howard, thus theoretically keeping alive the possibility that Houston could preserve its cap space to pursue Chris Paul and possibly pair Howard with Paul.
Would the Lakers make this move? Probably not. The far likelier outcome is that they’d just go into next season with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol both entering their final year. That’s a combined $50 million off the books. One season later Steve Nash comes off the books. Add in a Metta World Peace amnesty and you have a ton of cap space to play with. That being said, if they did make this move, which they won’t, this would be the justification for it:
Asik is a quality defensive anchor at roughly half Howard's price. And Lin had the greatest success of his career under Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni. But sources maintain that the Lakers' main priority this offseason -- besides re-signing Howard -- is getting their financial house in order. Which is why the overriding expectation persists that L.A. will rebuff sign-and-trade proposals to simply bank the cap space for the summer of 2014 if Howard bolts.
That last bit is more important than the first one. It makes far more sense for L.A. to just let Howard walk and free the franchise up financially than to take on the contracts of a one-trick defensive pony and an overrated, overpaid point guard.