When word began to circulate Saturday that the Clippers have weighed offering Blake Griffin and Eric Bledsoe to their Staples Center co-tenants for Dwight Howard in a potential sign-and-trade swap after July 1, that naturally made folks wonder where the Lakers stand in their quest to re-sign Howard when he becomes an unrestricted free agent.
Here's the latest:
• The Lakers have had several discussions with Howard's representatives over the past few weeks and remain confident that they will ultimately keep him with the franchise, even as he's made it clear he will entertain other suitors.
• Yet the Lakers also, according to sources, have not completely ruled out the idea of a sign-and-trade if they come to find next month that Howard is determined to leave. Sources say they are indeed leaning against sign-and-trade scenarios because they'd rather bank the resultant cap space from Howard's departure for the summer of 2014. But sources say they've adopted a keep-all-options-open approach. So they'll at least listen to just about anything.
• One source with knowledge of the Lakers' thinking said Saturday that any suggestion they could not philosophically allow themselves to make a major trade with the Clippers was "overblown." If the Clippers do indeed decide to formally offer Griffin and Bledsoe in a sign-and-trade package for Howard, indications are that it's a proposal the Lakers will certainly not dismiss outright.
• The threat of the James Harden-led Rockets signing Howard away from L.A. is very real to the Lakers, sources said, which means the Lakers will eventually be getting a sign-and-trade pitch from Houston as well. 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.
• 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.
• Should Howard decide to leave the Lakers, sources said, several options have been discussed internally in Lakerland. Among them: The Lakers could simply let him walk, go into the season with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash as their centerpieces -- as they had planned in July 2012 before the trade for Howard materialized -- and focus on slicing into their luxury-tax bill.