The Los Angeles Lakers made a calculated risk when they acquired center Dwight Howard's services from the Orlando Magic last offseason, and now Howard is an unrestricted free agent. If the Lake Show is going to have any measure of success next season, the organization must figure out a way to re-sign him.
It is no secret that the Lakers' 2012-13 season didn't go according to plan. The Lakers were considered to be among the league's top contenders for the NBA title, but injuries plagued their stars throughout the season, including Howard, Pau Gasol, Steve Nash and even Kobe Bryant.
Those injuries resulted in Los Angeles squeaking into the playoffs by virtue of a seventh-place finish in the Western Conference. The Lakers got a tough draw in the first round as they had to face the eventual Western Conference champion San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs made quick work of the Lakers as they sent them packing after just four games.
Howard was criticized often over the course of the season, as the team didn't mesh as well as many had hoped it would. Even so, Howard's numbers were more than respectable as he averaged more than 17 points and 12 rebounds, along with 2.5 blocks per contest. He had to take a backseat to Bryant from a scoring perspective for much of the season, so dropping three points per game from the previous season wasn't a big surprise.
Although the Spurs handily disposed of the Lakers, Howard held up his end of the bargain. He was essentially right on his regular-season averages during the postseason, but he just didn't have enough help. Bryant missed the final two regular-season games as well as the playoffs with a torn Achilles, so D12 was pretty much left to solve everything himself.
Howard dealt with a torn labrum in his own right last season, so he was never really at full strength. Despite that, he put in an honest effort every game and fought through the pain. If not for his contributions, it's quite likely that L.A. would have missed the playoffs altogether, so his importance to the team shouldn't be understated.
With that in mind, it shouldn't come as a shock that the Lakers are bent on keeping Howard in the fold. According to Arash Markazi of ESPN Los Angeles, the Lakers will do everything necessary to retain Howard and fully expect to.
Even though Los Angeles' intentions are obvious, that hasn't stopped teams from inquiring about Howard's services. According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, the Los Angeles Clippers have shown interest in a sign-and-trade deal for Howard, but the Lakers have no interest in such a move.
The Clippers aren't the only team likely to be in pursuit of Howard as Mark Medina of the Long Beach Press-Telegram is reporting that the Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets, Atlanta Hawks and Golden State Warriors are all possibilities as well. That means the Lakers will have a ton of competition once Howard officially hits the open market.
If the Lakers manage to let him slip away, though, they will be hurt in a bad way next season and beyond. It is unclear when Bryant will return from his injury, but he is shooting for November or December, according to DeAntae Prince of Sporting News. With Bryant possibly missing a couple of months, the Lakers need another go-to guy in the fold.
Gasol has played that role in the past, but he seemed to decline last season. The same is true of Nash as he struggled to stay on the floor. Both of them can be excellent supporting players when healthy, but neither of them can take over a game like Howard can. Without Bryant or Howard, it would be nearly impossible for the Lakers to keep their heads above water early next season.
In addition to next season, the Lakers have to think about the future. Kobe is coming off a major injury, and he isn't getting any younger at 34 years of age. Also, Gasol is 32, Nash is 39 and even Metta World Peace is 33. That leaves the 27-year-old Howard as the only star-caliber player who could be in the fold for many years to come.
The Lakers are a proud franchise and anything short of a championship is usually unacceptable. If they are unable to keep Howard, though, they won't be touching the Larry O'Brien Trophy for many years.
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