|ESPN.com: Los Angeles Lakers||[Print without images]|
|If Dwight Howard chooses to leave L.A., there are a number of contingency plans the Lakers could put into effect.|
Howard is willing to forgo the extra $30 million the Lakers can pay him to play for a coach and in a system he feels will better use his skill set, one source said.
The Lakers can offer Howard a five-year, $118 million contract, while other teams can pay him only $88 million over four years.
Howard plans to meet with the Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets and Atlanta Hawks before meeting with the Lakers once teams are allowed to contact free agents beginning July 1, a source said. It appears that the teams will visit Howard in Los Angeles.
The Lakers have made it clear that it is not their intention to help push Howard out the door, but if Howard comes to them after July 1 and says he doesn't want to stay, L.A. will have no choice but to consider it. While the Lakers can't receive a player via a sign and trade because of their cap position, they can send out a player this way, so they would be able to sign Howard to a four-year, $87.6 million deal and trade him (Howard can only receive the full five-year, $118 million if he stays a Laker). Then it becomes a question of what L.A. could get for him. Would the crosstown Clippers really give up both Blake Griffin and Eric Bledsoe? What if it was DeAndre Jordan and Bledsoe? If the Warriors make an offer centered on either Klay Thompson or Harrison Barnes, does the Lakers' interest perk up? What about Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin from Houston?
Part of running an NBA team is being in the business of acquiring assets. Clearly, the Lakers don't want to part with a player like Howard who might be the second best two-way player in the game behind LeBron James. They want him to become the next great center to follow in the footsteps of George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O'Neal. But if Howard has no interest in that, you would have to think L.A. would want to receive something in return -- draft picks or young talent, if not another All-Star player -- than have him walk and leave the Lakers with nothing to show for it.
This play would be all about keeping the books clear for 2014-15. The Lakers would enter next season with a core of Bryant, Gasol and Steve Nash, which they were comfortable as their plan for next season until Howard finally fell in their laps in August. Add in a couple of heady free-agent acquisitions -- picking up a guy like Francisco Garcia for the mini mid-level, or someone like Brandan Wright or Donte Greene for the minimum -- and with a stroke of good luck when it comes to health and the Lakers would still be competitive in 2013-14 while setting up for a major revamp the following season.
In 2014-15, seemingly the whole NBA world can become available for free agency, starting with the league's crown jewel in James, but also other franchise-type players in Carmelo Anthony, Paul George, John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins. Currently, the only player the Lakers have under contract beyond next season is Nash, meaning if Bryant agrees to a much more reasonable extension than the $30.4 million he'll make next season, the Lakers could have their Hall of Fame backcourt of Nash and Bryant for 2014-15 along with two other max-level free agents to try to go for the title. Plus, Gasol could stay on board as well if he were willing to take a major pay cut down to mini mid-level territory as well.