- Chris Broussard, NBA analyst
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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 Dallas, Houston and Atlanta 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.
A source close to the All-Star center told ESPNLosAngeles.com that Howard expects to be ready to choose his team as soon as the NBA's moratorium on new business is lifted on July 10.
Howard is notoriously indecisive, so the Lakers, while apparently major underdogs, should not be completely eliminated from contention. Before the 2011-12 season, he repeatedly asked the Orlando Magic to trade him, and then at midseason he opted in to the final year of his contract to remain in Orlando.
Howard's major problem with the Lakers is the system that coach Mike D'Antoni employs. Beyond that, he did not enjoy playing with Kobe Bryant, though he could manage to do so in a different system, a source said. Howard also does not want to be second fiddle to Bryant for several more seasons.
While many believe Houston is the Lakers' stiffest competition, sources say Howard finds Dallas just as appealing, if not more. Assuming the Mavericks are able to clear enough cap space to offer him a maximum-salaried contract, Howard is strongly considering joining Dallas. The Mavericks are trying to shed Shawn Marion's $9 million expiring contract to create the room to sign Howard, according to sources.
Howard likes the idea of being the top superstar of a franchise and with Dirk Nowitzki aging, Dallas would be viewed as Howard's team. Howard also believes the Mavericks can build a championship roster around him with the ample cap space they will have in the summer of 2014.
Howard, however, has concerns about the Rockets' style of play, sources say. While he likes the idea of playing for coach Kevin McHale, he sees that they play an up-tempo, perimeter-oriented style that does not feature post play.
To get Howard, the Rockets will have to convince him that they will play a style more conducive to his skills.
Atlanta, Howard's hometown, is a long shot. As ESPN.com reported two weeks ago, Howard was willing to go to Atlanta with Clippers free agent Chris Paul. But the recent signing of Doc Rivers as the Clippers' head coach has assured that Paul will remain in Los Angeles.
Howard would love to do a sign-and-trade deal that would allow him to play with Paul and the Clippers, but neither he nor the Clippers believe the Lakers will agree to such a move, sources said.
Information from ESPNLosAngeles.com reporter Dave McMenamin was used in this report.
6dEthan Sherwood Strauss
7dMatt Walks, ESPN.com