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The Los Angeles Lakers are resting their hopes on the decision-making of Dwight Howard.
Still considered the league’s elite center, Howard holds all the leverage in his free agency. He can opt to stay with the Lakers for more money, or he can find a better scenario elsewhere.
ESPN’s Chris Broussard reported Thursday, “Howard is willing to forgo the extra $30 million the Lakers can pay him to play for a coach and in a system he feels will better use his skill set, one source said.”
The Lakers are in a bind with or without Howard. There is no cap flexibility to improve the team above what was seen last season. Kobe Bryant returns following his Achilles surgery while Pau Gasol, Steve Nash and Metta World Peace each return under large contracts.
Even if Howard returns, the Lakers only remake the same team that just barely made the postseason last year before being swept in the first round. And if he doesn’t return, it’s that same team without the league’s top center and perhaps without an amnestied World Peace.
The decision rests on Howard, whose return would undoubtedly enhance the Lakers’ situation next season but, more importantly, would help the future of the franchise.
The good news in Los Angeles is that either way the situation clears following this transitional season. The only contract on the books for 2014-15 is the $9.7 million owed to Nash.
Of course, that’s also the reason Howard’s decision is monumental. Having the league’s best center as an anchor to a remodel puts the Lakers in a better situation.