This summer, he'll also be a free agent.
While the Lakers center will be free to sign with any team of his choosing following the 2012-13 season, the decision should already be clear.
Los Angeles is already the perfect fit, for a number of reasons.
To demonstrate why, I've invited Virtual Dwight Howard in for an interview. Virtual Dwight Howard is just like the regular Dwight Howard, except he's available for fake interviews at any time and for whatever reason is interested in asking for career advice.
Virtual Dwight Howard: "I like Los Angeles, but I want to keep my options open. What other teams will have the money to sign me to a maximum contract that both of us know I'm getting?"
Nice question, VDH. For the answer we're going to get a little help from our friends at HoopsHype.com who have a nice salary breakdown for each team.
Yep, let's see here, ok, ooh, I've got some bad news.
It looks like only the Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers, Utah Jazz, Detroit Pistons, San Antonio Spurs, Milwaukee Bucks, New Orleans Hornets, Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Bobcats, Cleveland Cavaliers and Houston Rockets will have enough salary space pending any major trades.
How do those teams sound?
Virtual Dwight Howard: "Yikes. Wow, Milwaukee? Cleveland? The Bobcats?? Tell me more about the Hawks. I'm from Atlanta you know and I would love to play with Joe Johnson and Josh Smith."
Oooh, yeah, about that. While you were busy kind of ticking everybody off this summer Johnson was actually traded to the Nets.
Virtual Dwight Howard: "Well what about J-Smoove? Dude has some sick hops."
He's a free agent next summer, just like you. The Hawks will still have Al Horford and Lou Williams though!
Virtual Dwight Howard: (Dry stare.)
So we've established the Lakers are the most attractive team out of the bunch?
Virtual Dwight Howard: "I would definitely say so. Ok, so what about future success? I know we're loaded now, but Kobe's been playing since I was in diapers. How do I know the Lakers will bring in another star after he's gone and not leave me hanging like my previous employer?"
While nothing in sports is guaranteed, look at the Lakers' track record.
This is the same team that gave us Kobe, Shaq and a collection of role players that won three straight titles! When Kobe needed help after Shaq was eventually traded, they went out and got Pau Gasol for Kwame Brown!
Virtual Dwight Howard: (Holds back laughter.) "Wow, how'd they pull that off?"
The same way they convinced the Suns to trade you guys Steve Nash for a few late picks that will probably amount to nothing. Mitch Kupchak is a magician, just look around your roster.
Virtual Dwight Howard: "That's true. But I heard our payroll is somewhere around $100 million, right? How will we have the money to bring other guys in?"
$100,180,731 to be exact. It's true, the Lakers have no real room to bring anybody in now, but just wait until 2014.
Guys like Dirk Nowitzki, Amar'e Stoudemire, Rudy Gay, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Paul Pierce, Danny Granger, Luol Deng, Andre Iguodala, Monta Ellis, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James are all eligible to become free agents then.
The Lakers will only have Steve Nash under contract and could sign not one but a few of those players mentioned.
Virtual Dwight Howard: "So, assuming Kobe retires, you mean L.A. could just go pluck guys like Chris Bosh and LeBron out of free agency?"
They could, yes. Close your eyes and picture Nash running a fastbreak. You're up front, with Bosh on your left and James on your right, all just waiting to see who Nash snaps that alley-oop to first.
Virtual Dwight Howard: "I just peed a little."
Crazy to think about right? With you and Nash in L.A., what free agents wouldn't want to come join you guys?
Virtual Dwight Howard: "Ok, so what about money? I mean, this is a business first."
Sad but true.
Virtual Dwight Howard: "How do I know I can maximize my, umm, profits with the Lakers?"
Well, for starters L.A. is the second largest city in the United States and home to some of the best endorsement deals a man could ask for.
Second, according to NBA rules you can sign for as much as five years and $100 million with your current team. If you wanted to go play for, let's say, the Bobcats, they could only offer four years and $75 million. Basically, you get rewarded for staying with your own team.
Virtual Dwight Howard: "Sounds good, if you'll excuse me I've got to call my agent and get this thing taken care of now. The thought of leaving L.A. for less money to play for one of the teams you mentioned has made me want to go have my second drink. I just had my first one this summer, you know."
I heard, dude. That's impressive! Best of luck and thanks for stopping by today.
Virtual Hang Up
So to recap what was discussed with Virtual Dwight Howard, we established that there are no teams with cap space that are more attractive to play for than the Lakers.
We also found out that the Lakers have an extensive history of pairing stars together and bringing in talent whenever they need it. The 2014 free agent class is loaded with stars, and L.A. will have the cap space to sign them.
Howard can also make $25 million more by signing with the Lakers than with any other NBA team. We know L.A. is a great town for commercials and endorsements, so money won't be a problem.
More money, a better team now and bright future later?
Howard would truly be insane to leave LA.