The Los Angeles Lakers are confident that they will re-sign All-Star center Dwight Howard this summer (h/t ESPN's Chris Broussard), but I wouldn't be so sure if I were GM Mitch Kupchak. The three-time Defensive Player of the Year is going to have a number of teams besides the Lakers knocking on his door in July, and there is no guarantee that he will remain in the City of Angels.
Granted, the Lakers have an advantage in that they can offer Howard a better contract than any other suitor. According to Broussard, they can offer him a five-year deal worth $118 million, while others can only offer four years and $88 million. Money may talk, but that may not be all that matters to Howard.
The facts are simple. Like any player in the NBA, and any professional sport for that matter, Howard wants to play someplace where he can win, and regularly. More importantly, as we saw during last season's "Dwightmare" in Orlando, Howard wants to be "the guy" on whatever team he is on.
I hate to say it, but that's not going to happen with the Lakers, even if Kobe Bryant does retire once his current contract is up. With all of the money coming off the books in the next couple of years, Kupchak could make a run at LeBron James, which could throw a monkey wrench into Howard's hopes of being the alpha dog in town.
In terms of winning, the Lakers have done little to prove to Howard that he will win that ever-elusive championship if he does stay. Yes, Los Angeles has won six of seven and the season is not over yet, but the team being 23-26 and three-and-a-half games out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference is anything but an encouraging sign for the future.
It should also be noted that Howard has subtly hinted just how unhappy he is in head coach Mike D'Antoni's system, and yet team management is confident that they can bring him back long-term.
The sad truth is that regardless of how much money the Lakers can offer him, Dwight Howard is smart enough to realize that he could be better off on a team like the Houston Rockets, Atlanta Hawks or even the Dallas Mavericks. All three teams will be champing at the bit to bring him aboard and can make pitches that far outweigh those of the aging Lakers.
Who will Dwight Howard play for next season?
That all being said, Kupchak and the rest of the Los Angeles front office need to take a long, hard look at the Dwight Howard situation and figure out how they can get the perennial All-Star to sign a new deal for reasons besides the money involved. Whether it means cutting D'Antoni loose or doing a slight roster overhaul, one thing is certain.
The team is way too confident in its attitude regarding Howard's future right now, and that's going to come back to bite them unless they think realistically.