Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard may very well be the most prized player on the free-agent market this offseason. The Lakers seem willing to pull out all the stops to retain him, but reports suggest that their efforts will go unrewarded.
According to Chris Broussard of ESPN, sources are reporting that Howard is unlikely to re-sign with the Lakers. He is also reporting that the Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks are the front-runners to acquire his services.
Broussard later added that the Golden State Warriors will try and enter the Howard sweepstakes when free agency opens.
While Howard has always been a bit of a wild card, this report may come as a surprise to many. Howard's first season in L.A. didn't go according to plan, as the Lakers barely snuck into the playoffs as the No. 7 seed before being swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the first round.
Howard essentially forced his way out of Orlando last offseason when he refused to commit to re-signing with the Magic. Rather than losing him for nothing in free agency, the Magic orchestrated a four-team deal involving the Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers and Denver Nuggets that ultimately sent Howard to Los Angeles.
Although Howard's numbers were down a bit—17.1 points, 12.4 rebounds, 2.4 blocks per game—he's still the NBA's top center when healthy. Howard had to share the spotlight with future Hall of Fame shooting guard Kobe Bryant for much of the season, and that had plenty to do with Howard's offensive downturn.
According to Broussard, the Lakers can offer Howard $30 million more than any other team. Apparently it isn't all about the money, though, as Howard reportedly doesn't believe that he is a good fit in Mike D'Antoni's system. Because of that, Howard may be willing to play elsewhere at a relative discount.
The Lakers are able to offer Howard a five-year contract worth $118 million, but the maximum that other teams can offer is four years and $88 million. According to Broussard, Howard plans to meet with the Mavericks, Rockets and Atlanta Hawks before meeting with the Lakers once he officially becomes a free agent on July 1.
Even so, Broussard isn't completely counting out the Lakers just yet.
Below is a billboard the Lakers put up on the side of Staples Center:
Howard's mind may already be made up, however, and it's possible that there is nothing the Lakers organization can do to change it.
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