With the Nets dropping out of the Dwight Howard race, the top contenders for him have emerged in Atlanta, Houston and the Los Angeles Lakers. Howard has been the epitome of a dream team level center during his entire NBA tenure.
He could bring some of the biggest pieces to the Magic to build around for their new long-term rebuilding efforts. There were rumors that the Nets and even Bulls were interested, but they are looking like they are out of the race. This leaves the top three contenders for Howard's services to be the Hawks, Rockets and Lakers.
The Main Piece: Multiple first round picks and recently drafted players
The Rockets are the ideal team to trade Howard to if the Magic have primary say in it. They could get an entirely new team out of it and get out of some of the terrible contracts they have been saddled with from past mistakes. According to ESPN, the big catalyst for the trade could be the release of Luis Scola:
Sources told ESPN.com the Rockets, after going ahead Friday with their plans to release starting power forward Luis Scola via the NBA's amnesty clause, are now able to absorb the contracts of Glen Davis, Jason Richardson and Chris Duhon—in addition to offering Orlando various combinations of future first-round draft picks and players drafted in the first round by Houston last month.
So the Rockets have completely opened the door to pursue Howard. It makes a lot of sense for them to go after the big man, try to team him with their young talent and bring in the other three as bench talent. However, they will be giving up a lot of talent in return for some of the worst contracts in the NBA.
Los Angeles Lakers
The Main Piece: Center Andrew Bynum
The Lakers have one of the best cores in the league right now based around one of the best scoring guards of all time and one of the top point guards of all time. They have some solid big men that could be big pieces in this trade and the most recent proposal includes the Rockets (h/t Eric Pincus of HoopsWorld):
HoopsWorld has learned that there have been preliminary discussions between the Orlando Magic, Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets that would involve sending Andrew Bynum to the Rockets, Howard to the Lakers and a number of first-round picks, prospects and significant cap relief to the Magic.
This is an interesting thought. While losing Bynum isn't ideal, Howard is definitely an upgrade. Having Howard down low and Gasol at the top of the key could revitalize both careers and be the best pair of big men on a team since Robinson and Duncan.
The Main Piece: Center/Power Forward Al Horford
The Hawks are the best possible location long term for Howard as he is originally from Atlanta and would team with Anthony Morrow and Josh Smith who he teamed with at the AAU level. The Hawks have some solid trade pieces to include in a trade for Howard (h/t Talal Elmasry of GatorSports.com):
Considering what its competition can put on the table, Atlanta’s pieces stack up just fine. And the likelihood of Horford actually heading back to Florida is at least greater now than he was led to believe at the turn of the year.
Horford and Teague seem like the most likely targets to send to Orlando as part of a trade to help build the core of the newly rebuilt team. Howard's arrival in Atlanta would bring fans new inspiration in the Hawks and could end up being the catalyst to draw additional top free agents to Atlanta like Chris Paul.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist and Trends and Traffic Writer for Bleacher Report. As a Featured Columnist, he covers the Atlanta Falcons, NFL and NFL Draft. He is also the Falcons analyst at Drafttek and also runs the NFL Draft Website ScarDraft.com and the host of Kvetching Draftniks Radio.