The uncertainty of free agency is a scary thing. It's one reason why the Los Angeles Lakers were able to trade for Dwight Howard during the 2012 offseason, and it's a reason why there's been uncertainty surrounding his current status.
However, after Wednesday's quotes from general manager Mitch Kupchak and LA's big win over Boston, the window to both listen to trades and even be open to that kind of move appears to be closed.
That would be a mistake.
HoopsWorld writer Alex Kennedy first noted that even though the Lakers are maintaining that they aren't going to trade Howard before Thursday's trade deadline, there's a general sense around the league that those assertions are premature.
Alex Kennedy @AlexKennedyNBA
Despite an assurance otherwise, league sources still believe the L.A. Lakers will consider trading Dwight Howard: http://t.co/cBBmbh3p2013-2-19 22:20:01
Those assertions lie in direct contradiction of what Kupchak told reporters on Wednesday, as noted by ESPN's Dave McMenamin in his latest piece:
"We've been very consistent," Kupchak said. "We're not trading Dwight Howard. ... He will not be traded, and there's nothing that anybody can do today to call me today and ask me, 'Would you do this?' and get a positive result."
For starters, that attitude could end up really hurting the Lakers come summer 2013.
Despite Howard having a great season statistically (16.3 points, 11.8 rebounds, 2.3 blocks per game), he hasn't had the kind of impact on the defensive side of the team or in the locker room that the Lakers perceived he would when parting with Andrew Bynum for his services.
Throw in the fact that Howard is set to hit free agency this summer, and teams like Atlanta and Houston are putting themselves in position to have cap space for a potential blockbuster sign-and-trade, and things start looking even dicier with respect to Kupchak's decision.
Another great example of Howard's lack of maturity and disappointing year in LA could be at the All-Star game.
According to Stephen A. Smith on a broadcast of ESPN's Mike and Mike, Howard was cussed out by San Antonio head coach Gregg Popovich after the All-Star head man drew up a play for the star center out of a timeout, and Howard never left the bench—too busy goofing off with teammates and putting on his warmups.
Yes, it was the All-Star game.
Yes, it matters—especially when looking at Howard's attitude and persona both on and off the court.
The Lakers can't afford the drama that comes with Howard making a decision this summer. It's been well documented that he went back and forth on a stance with regards to his future with the Magic during last season's drama, and that ultimately led to a fired head coach (Stan Van Gundy) and an organization now in shambles.
I'm not advocating that the Lakers trade Howard. He's a key piece to what they are doing, and there aren't any players of equal value on the trading block right now.
That being said, it's equally foolish to not explore an offer that could come in during the next 10 hours.
If a team like Atlanta or Dallas offered him a max contract and a promise that he would be "the man," what would stop him from switching teams again—this time on his own?
As the trade deadline winds down, it's very unlikely that Howard moves. Kupchak and Lakers management have made that clear, and that's a good stance since the team will need him to even make the playoffs.
However, to call him the "future" of the franchise and place a no-trade tag on his head is premature. To prepare for the future in LA, Kupchak must at least start to speculate about a roster that doesn't include what has turned out to be a mistake so far.