ESPN’s Chris Broussard reported on Friday that Howard and Chris Paul want to be teammates. Both are unrestricted free agents this summer. They could connect on the Atlanta Hawks, who have the salary cap space to sign both to max contracts.
According to Broussard, though, D12 and CP3 would rather live in Los Angeles, making a sign-and-trade between the Lakers and Clippers the most likely scenario which leads to them playing together.
However, Lakers Nation’s Mark Heisler reported that Mitch Kupchak and company would rather let Howard walk and free up cap space for a 2014 free-agent class that includes LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. The report also mentioned, though, that if the Houston Rockets offered James Harden, L.A. could make an exception.
Kobe Bryant turns 35 years old in August and is in the final year of his contract. He’s aiming to win seven titles, according to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne. If the Lakers pass on a sign-and-trade to free up cap space, Bryant would be furious that his dream of doing so in purple and gold would be all but doused.
If Los Angeles’ front office were to take Bryant into consideration, it would accept the best offer on the table for Howard.
Broussard reported that the Clippers considered trading Blake Griffin for Howard when he was on the Orlando Magic and threw out Eric Bledsoe’s name as another potential trade piece. Heisler named Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik as options alongside Harden, while Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski reported in May that Thomas Robinson was on the block.
Location shouldn’t influence where the Lakers were to trade Howard. They’d be forced to face off against him four times in the regular season per year with the Clippers. On the Rockets, they’d still have to play him three or four times.
Both deals offer plenty of upside.
Blake Griffin is still only 24 years old, and he averaged 20.4 points and 10.4 rebounds per game over the first three years of his career. 23-year-old Eric Bledsoe made huge strides in the 2012-2013 campaign, scoring 8.5 points per game while shooting 39.7 percent from downtown. He finished the season with a player efficiency ratio of 17.6 (the league average is 15.0).
Meanwhile, James Harden blew up in his expanded role with the Rockets, averaging 25.9 points—the fifth-highest mark in the NBA—5.8 assists and 4.9 rebounds. Asik, who’s more likely to be traded alongside Harden than Lin because he shares a position with Howard, averaged 10.1 points and 11.7 rebounds in his first season in Houston.
And while Robinson struggled to produce as a rookie, he still has upside.
If the Rockets are willing to offer Harden, they could put together a better package than the Clippers. If Houston would rather roll the dice and hope Howard signs with the team in free agency, adding Griffin and Bledsoe is still a superior option to letting the three-time Defensive Player of the Year walk. Both deals would make the Lakers younger, more athletic and set them up to compete for championships in the post-Bryant era.
David Daniels is a breaking news writer at Bleacher Report and news editor at Wade-O Radio.