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LA Lakers Are Dwight Howard's Only Sensible Option in Free Agency

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 15:  Dwight Howard #12 of the Los Angeles Lakers returns to the court after a timeout during a 104-88 win over the Milwaukee Bucks at Staples Center on January 15, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Dan FavaleFeatured ColumnistFebruary 20, 2013

If Dwight Howard knows what's best for his career, he'll re-sign with the Los Angeles Lakers this summer. By extension, if I believed he knew what was best for his career, you'd have nothing to read at the moment.

Ridiculous though it may seem, Howard's future remains shrouded in uncertainty. He's finally playing in the lavish market he desperately craved and on a team with the financial means to do anything and the résumé to prove it. And he's still not satisfied, not that he should be.

Fighting what has been a constant uphill battle shouldn't sit well with Howard. It shouldn't sit well with anyone. That the Lakers find themselves paying $100-plus million for a team still sitting 3.5 games outside of the postseason picture can't be gratifying.

It also can't be used as the sole motivation behind Howard's departure. Nor can his on-again, off-again rapport with Kobe Bryant

Should the season end, the dust settle and the Lakers find themselves not just ring-less, but lottery-bound, Dwight still has no business leaving. Not if he wants to give himself the best possible chance to win, or if he wants to get the most cash.

Under the new collective bargaining agreement, only the Lakers can offer him the five-year, $110.8 million that is his true max value on the market.

If he signs elsewhere as an unrestricted free agent, he can only get a four-year deal with 4.5 percent annual raises, leaving that offer in the $80 million range.

Plenty of teams will be vying for Howard's services this summer, but none of them will afford him the opportunity to win like he can in Los Angeles.

Mark Cuban, Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks are appealing from afar, but what's the reasoning behind Howard leaving one 34-year-old in Bryant for another in Dirk?

The Houston Rockets, in all their James Harden-fueled glory, are a flamboyant bunch, yet they are still in the middle of an extensive rebuild.

Howard's hometown Atlanta Hawks and general manager Danny Ferry will have plenty of coin to use on Howard, but someone will have to remind me why the big man believes he can succeed on a team that embodies mediocrity.

From there, what other options does Howard have? If he still believes he's going to the Brooklyn Nets, then he's more deluded than we originally thought.

The teams that will pursue Howard this summer are not that good. At best, Dallas may toil with dominance for a year before falling off again, Houston may or may not be ready in a few years, and Atlanta might actually play better than average.

There's no immediate championship to be won with any who have the funds necessary to sign Howard.

More importantly, there are no superstars left to team up with.

Josh Smith posed an alluring partner at one time, but he's just about pouted his way out of Atlanta. And on a team with Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik earning serious cash, Howard and Harden wouldn't be enough to render Houston a powerhouse.

Oh, and that other guy, Chris Paul, isn't poised to become Howard's future teammate. He's moved on from that (via Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports):

The way Paul didn't need Howard on the floor in the final minutes of the All-Star Game, he doesn't need him in his future. For all the salary-cap space cleared in Dallas and Atlanta – those franchises fantasize luring Paul and Howard together – Paul's greatness has made the Clippers a destination.

Who would've thought, but it's true: For the older guys wanting to take less money to win, the Clippers are the choice over the Lakers now.

Take note, Dwight. Paul has moved on, and you should to. 

You should stay in Los Angeles and help the Lakers regain their rightful spot as a destination of choice. Cash in on Tinseltown, and play for the championship ring that has eluded you for nearly a decade. Stay with the Lakers, and prove you're the player you all want us to believe you are.

Stay in Los Angeles, and be more like Paul.

The Los Angeles Clippers point guard hasn't let his impending free agency cloud his psyche these last two seasons. He's methodically evaded questions regarding his future and forced the Clippers to avert complacency, but he's never wavered in his commitment.

Instead, he's used his leverage to try and win.

Look where he is now—within reach of a title.

Howard can be too. He may not have that same power Paul does, but he doesn't need it.

The Lakers are already a team committed to winning. Howard doesn't need to keep them on their toes. They've won 10 titles since Dr. Jerry Buss purchased the team 34 years ago, the most of any sports franchise in America during that time. Every time they've appeared to fall off, they've spent the money and acquired the assets necessary to win.

All Howard needs to do is think back to last summer. Los Angeles was supposedly finished. It couldn't win a title as currently constructed. It had no threatening point guard and an injury-prone and perennial underachiever in center Andrew Bynum.

What did the Lakers do? They traded for Steve Nash and Howard himself in the most Laker-ish of fashions possible. If such business savvy doesn't resonate with Howard, then nothing will.

We can point to Los Angeles' tumultuous season all we want, assert that this team can't win until we're breathless. What we can't do is believe the Lakers won't do everything humanly possible to fix their ever-growing list of problems, because they will. The Lakers will do anything and everything it takes to win.

Just like they've done for over three decades, and just like they'll continue to do moving forward.

With or without Howard.

 

*All stats used in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference, Synergy Sports and 82games.com unless otherwise noted.

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