With word spreading that Chris Paul may have already made his decision to remain a Los Angeles Clipper following this season, the spotlight seems to be intensely focused on Dwight Howard and his future.
As one source close to the situation put it this week when asked to grade the Clips' chances of retaining CP3, keeping in mind Paul's well-chronicled love of the Hollywood scene and the fact that this team was good enough to reel off 17 wins in a row earlier this season: "I'm saying 99.5 percent."
Considering how well the Clippers have played with Paul in their lineup the past two seasons, Los Angeles Laker fans have to be wondering if their little brother across the hall might be rising up to become L.A.’s premier basketball franchise.
While it is realistic to say the Clippers look like the city’s best team now and into the future, Dwight Howard can change all of that talk.
Howard’s split with the Orlando Magic has been well documented and discussed to the point of exhaustion over the past 12 months. The real question is, can the Lakers re-sign the stud center, or will he divorce Tinseltown just like he did Orlando?
Paul staying a Clipper puts the pressure firmly on the Lakers. For as mediocre as the Lakers have played this year, Howard is still one of the best franchise cornerstones in the entire league. The Lakers future revolves around Howard staying put and the franchise being handed over to him upon Kobe Bryant’s retirement.
The Lakers can offer nearly $25 million more than any team Dwight could choose to sign with in free agency. They can also offer the Hollywood glitz and glamor that defines the Laker franchise and playing in one of the best markets in the country.
While Howard has been adamant in the past about getting the ball more and playing on a team that focuses its offense around him, winning cures all. Unfortunately, that has not happened much for the Lakers this season.
This fosters even more questions. Can Mike D’Antoni satisfy Howard? Will the Lakers consider firing D’Antoni this summer if they miss the playoffs? Is Howard happy in Los Angeles?
Shifting back to Paul for a second, should he re-sign with the Clippers, there is the potential for a rivalry of epic proportions in Los Angeles. Paul has energized the fanbase and turned the Clippers into a national brand, thanks to their entertaining style of play.
Rivalries are what make athletics so great. Pitting two of the most talented teams in a league against each other makes for great theater. When those two teams are located in the same city and share an arena, everything surrounding the matchup intensifies.
What remains to be seen is if Howard can put this season, and all of the uncertainty of becoming a Laker, behind him. Dwight has the option of waiting a few more years to become the face of one of the league’s flagship franchises or bolting for more familiar and attractive pastures this summer.
Should Howard choose to remain a Laker and Paul re-sign with the Clippers, a new type of rivalry will have developed in the nation’s two largest media markets. Imagine an NBA with an inner-city battle for Los Angeles and New York.
The decision of two men this summer can literally alter the future of the league. Chris Paul and Dwight Howard’s future may not be linked upon first glance. However, when investigating the situation further, they most certainly are. Fans of the Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks may not like to hear this, but there is too much on the table for either player to leave Los Angeles.