Long Dwight Howard Summer Starts for Lakers, Rockets and Mavs

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Phoenix SunsAnother one of those summers looms in Lakerdom.

Rather than take the extra $30 million and jumping into the Lakers’ arms as a Hall of Fame wing of great centers had, Dwight Howard will check out other teams. It’s all preliminary. With Howard under contract through July 1, everything–visits, welcoming pageants, talks—is in the planning stage.

—- See Dwight Howard through the years in photos! —-

In other words, this is the off-season’s preseason.

Laker fans with enough brain cells left may remember that their last preseason didn’t go so well, what with all the injuries and the 0-8 record. Nor does the off-season’s preseason look like it will be much fun with Howard intent on touring the NBA. The likeliest outcome is still that he stays, after drawing it out as long as possible, raising hopes in as many cities as he can, and ultimately disappointing the maximum number of teams and fans possible.

Hey, he’s Dwight Howard. It’s what he does.

If Laker fans have been assembling packages for Pau Gasol and scouring free agent lists down to the Anthony Morrow/Dorell Wright level to see who might be available for $3.1 million, the team is taking it one thing at a time.

No. 1, of course, is s-s-signing H-H-Howard.

Everything else depends on his decision. Like anything involving him, it won’t be easy and will proceed on his clock. A conversation with a Laker insider suggested the team hasn’t talked numbers with Howard’s agent, Dan Fegan. And that’s if they’re talking at all. This dovetails with the report by CBSportsline’s Ken Berger that Howard will check out other teams first, intrigued by the Rockets and, secondarily, the Mavericks.

Berger’s report, in turn, dovetailed with items in stories out of Dallas, reporting Dirk Nowitzki’s offer to take a pay cut, that noted Howard was likelier to be on the market than Chris Paul. That suggests the Mavs were told—probably by Paul’s agent, Leon Rose—that CP3 intends to sign with the Clippers. It also suggests that Howard’s agent, Fegan, has not put the Mavs on hold in a similar way.

When Howard has explored his options, the Lakers will still be the one guaranteeing $118 million over five years rather than $88 million over four.

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It’s true, Texas has no state income tax, which would save Howard 10.3% of his salary. On the other hand, the Lakers’ guarantee is 35% bigger than anyone else’s.

No one can be sure what Fegan will counsel, but as a general practice he has a “fifth-year rule”–which means, take the fifth year and the money. If you’re unhappy, I’ll get you traded. The gap between the five-year Laker offer and the others shrinks dramatically if Howard gets a new max contract at 31, after his four-year deal runs out.

That means running the risk of injury. But we don’t all assess risk, or see the word the same way.

Being Dwight, he’ll do it his way, no matter how many times it takes.

In his farewell to Orlando, he asked to be traded to the Nets, threatening to opt out at season’s end; wound up opting in for an extra season, instead; then asked to be traded again, which is how he became a Laker in the first place. Worshiped in Orlando, Howard was merely a curio in Lakerdom, regarded skeptically by fans—and teammates—for refusing to say something as polite and non-binding as “I hope to stay,” from his first press conference to his Game 4 ejection gainst the Spurs.

He and Kobe Bryant were on different pages, or different books—Bryant’s would be about gladiators, Howard’s more like a coloring book—but ultimately forged a working relationship and even elements of a friendship, with Dwight visiting Kobe in the hospital. Nevertheless, since whim is him, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Howard bolt for his own team and a town that adores him the way Magic fans did.

NBA: Preseason-Sacramento Kings at Los Angeles LakersWhen Dwight missed two key free throws in the Game 4 loss in the 2009 Finals putting the Lakers up, 3-1, Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Bianchi said the fans snarled–at the press—for daring to “blame our Dwight in shining armor!”

The Lakers didn’t consult Howard before acquiring him, confident he would want to be here like Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O’Neal, the great centers who arrived one after the other, turning the team’s destiny around,

Not that Howard is like the other great centers, or anyone. Having originally listed the Lakers No. 1 on his list, he moved them to the bottom, maneuvering, instead, to get to the Brooklyn-bound Nets, alongside his friend, Deron Williams. There was a telephone conversation with Bryant which Dwight took to mean “come and rebound for Pau and I.”

—- Check out this wallpaper of Dwight Howard, Laker big man and embracing the legacy! —-

There was also the Shaquille O’Neal angle, with Dwight disinclined to follow so faithfully the footsteps of Shaq, his arch-critic.

It was all so simple, in theory.

With the Nets saving a max slot for the summer of 2012, Howard had only to wait that long. Unfortunately, three months from becoming a free agent, Howard tired of the furor around him and opted in, committing himself to the Magic for another season. He soon changed his mind (again), and asked them to trade him to the Nets (again)–but the teams couldn’t make a deal.

With talks dragging, D-Will reportedly told the Nets to drop out and get him some help, or he’d sign with Dallas. The Nets dropped out and acquired Joe Johnson.

Scratch another Dwight destination.

In a worst-case scenario with Howard leaving, the Lakers would keep Gasol while clearing the $20.5 million reserved for Dwight, saving almost $50 million with the enhanced luxury tax. In 2014 when all contracts but Steve Nash’s run out, the Lakers would drop almost $60 million under the cap. In the meantime, of course, they lose their only starter under 33, their leading rebounder and shot-blocker.

I know, it’s a hard choice.

Of course, Dwight being Dwight, he may choose for them.

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