According to a report by InsideSoCal.com's Mark Medina, the deal has no chance of getting off the ground because the Los Angeles Lakers will refuse any sign-and-trade request. A source close to the situation told Medina that "they’ll either resign Dwight or walk away with cap space.”
ESPN's Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne first reported that the Clippers were trying to engage the Lakers in talks that would center around Howard, Blake Griffin and Eric Bledsoe. They were reportedly doing this with the knowledge that star point guard Chris Paul and Howard were in constant conversations about teaming up, as first reported by ESPN's Chris Broussard.
As huge crosstown rivals competing for the hearts of Los Angelenos, it was expected to be an uphill battle for the Lakers and Clippers to consummate a deal, especially one at such a high magnitude. Griffin and Howard are among the NBA's biggest stars, and a deal at this scale would almost be unprecedented in NBA history.
Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski also noted that the Lakers were refusing to engage the Clippers in talks:
Lakers have fully resisted Clippers overtures on a sign-and-trade for Dwight Howard. "They will never do it," source with knowledge tells Y!— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) June 15, 2013
The Lakers' flat-out refusal to sign-and-trade Howard, however, is more noteworthy. The 27-year-old center is due to be an unrestricted free agent in July and has yet to make a long-term commitment on his future. Howard was traded from the Orlando Magic to the Lakers last August in a massive four-team deal with the expectation of making his new team an instant finals contender.
That expectation did not come to fruition, however.
As the entire Lakers roster struggled with injuries, coaching turmoil and reports of internal rifts between the players, the championship aspirations quickly flew out the window. The Lakers struggled for much of the season to stay above the .500 mark, needing a late-season resurgence to finish 45-37, winning the seventh seed in the Western Conference.
Though Howard, who was still recovering from a back injury suffered in the 2011-12 season, stayed on the court for 76 games, he was often the face of the team's struggles.
Once considered one of the two most dominating physical forces in the league (the other being LeBron James), Howard was noticeably less effective on both ends of the floor last season. He scored 17.1 points, grabbed 12.4 rebounds and recorded 2.4 blocks per game, but his inconsistency and noncommittal stance on returning to the Lakers made him a polarizing figure in Los Angeles.
With his free agency impending, there has been rampant speculation about whether Howard will return to the Lakers. The Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks are all expected to chase hard after Howard this summer, per Broussard's report.
Should Howard choose to go elsewhere, the sign-and-trade option could have played a critical role. Under the collective bargaining agreement, the Lakers, who own his Bird Rights, can offer Howard a five-year contract worth up to $118 million. Other teams can only offer a four-year deal, which maxes out at $87.6 million.
Should the Lakers be open to a Dwight Howard sign-and-trade?
Though it's unclear how much of a role that plays, Los Angeles' take-it-or-leave-it stance with Howard is also noteworthy from the team's perspective. Had the Lakers been willing to make a sign-and-trade deal, they would likely acquire a large "trade exception," which allows them to take on an NBA-allotted salary regardless of their cap room.
Rather than acquire that trade exception, it seems as though Lakers brass is willing to roll the dice and push forward to the summer of 2014 sans Howard. Steve Nash represents the only guaranteed contract the Lakers have on their books for the 2014-15 season, leaving the option of perhaps signing multiple max-contract players.
With Medina's report, it has become clear that the Lakers prefer that route to playing any part in Howard heading elsewhere next season.
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