Biggest Reasons Dwight Howard Could Bolt LA Lakers in 2013 Free Agency
As of 12:01 p.m. ET on Monday morning, the Dwight Howard sweepstakes kicked into high gear.
The Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers and Atlanta Hawks will all vie for the affection of the league's most dynamic center, one who posted averages of 17.1 points and 12.4 rebounds despite having a down year.
Each of the teams listed above has an argument of varying strength as to why Howard should land in its city, but it's the Lakers who desperately need Howard to return in order to contend for a title in the coming seasons.
Houston's Young Talent
On the surface, the Houston Rockets look like the front-runners for Dwight Howard's services. While we've yet to hear from the big man himself, Houston has the most intriguing pool of talent to pitch Dwight on.
Sure, the Dallas Mavericks have Dirk Nowitzki and the Los Angeles Lakers have their established group, but neither of those teams can sell Howard on young stars the way the Rockets can.
James Harden and Chandler Parsons are a dynamic duo on the perimeter, coming off a season in which they averaged 25.9 and 15.5 points respectively. With both Harden and Parsons under the age of 25, Howard can sign a deal with the Rockets knowing that he'll be on a contending club for years to come.
Compared to the Lakers and Mavericks, the Rockets' title window with Howard would be exponentially larger.
Daryl Morey has done commendable work turning Houston into a desirable free-agent destination. All that remains to be seen is if he can secure the big piece in the middle.
A Strong Sales Pitch from Dirk Nowitzki and Mark Cuban
Majority opinion at this point in time has painted the Dallas Mavericks as a second-tier suitor to swoop for Dwight Howard.
That opinion is well-substantiated. Dallas doesn't possess a young core like the Houston Rockets, their best player is fading out of his prime at at 35 years old, and there's no telling how long it will take Mark Cuban to collect assets who could capably compliment Howard.
However, when it comes to Howard, unpredictability typically reigns supreme.
With an aggressive negotiator in Cuban and a superstar in Dirk Nowitzki who can vouch for Cuban's reliability in building a championship contender, Howard could always be persuaded to give the 2011 champs serious consideration.
And who could say no to free chicken fingers for life?
Displeasure with Mike D'Antoni's System
According to ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard, Dwight Howard's wariness of returning to the Los Angeles Lakers derives from his displeasure with the Mike D'Antoni's system:
Howard's major problem with the Lakers is the system that coach Mike D'Antoni employs. Beyond that, he did not enjoy playing with Kobe Bryant, though he could manage to do so in a different system, a source said. Howard also does not want to be second fiddle to Bryant for several more seasons.
However, according to a tweet from ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin, Howard will not request that D'Antoni be fired.
If Dwight returns with D'Antoni still employed, perhaps a stylistic reformation will need to be agreed upon, thus ensuring Howard's happiness. Broussard mentions that Howard wants to be the offensive centerpiece, and if that's truly the case, a move elsewhere is what's best for the three-time Defensive Player of the Year.
Lakers fans don't want to see Howard pout his way through 82 games, and if Dwight sees an opportunity that better suits his individual needs, he'd be wise to pursue on it.
Lakers' Narrow Title Window
I mentioned it previously, but it bears repeating: Even with Dwight Howard, the Los Angeles Lakers' title window is considerably smaller than the Houston Rockets'.
Howard's youthful presence helps ease the burden on the Lakers' aging core, but when you consider that the average age of Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace is 34.5 years old, it becomes evident that L.A. has little wiggle room when it comes to its title window.
According to Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times, Bryant sees himself playing for another three years, if not more:
"'I could easily see myself playing another three or four years,' he said on Brazilian television in a segment produced by Glenda Carqueijo (2:30 in the video)."
It's encouraging that Bryant's boasting this sort of optimism about his longevity, but three more years of Bryant could make for a very unhappy Howard if his demand to be the focal point of the offense isn't appeased.
With Howard, the Lakers have a more championship-ready club than either the Rockets or Dallas Mavericks. Unfortunately, with the Lakers' 2012-13 season ravaged by injuries, there's still a significant amount of chemistry that needs to be established between the team's starters—and not much time.
With the clock ticking in Los Angeles, Howard could be scared away from Hollywood if his true desire is to compete for championships now and in the future.
The Desire for a Fresh Start, Once and for All
Indecision has been the name of the game for Howard, and this summer presents an opportunity for the seven-time All-Star to take his time and make a smart, calculated decision based on the wide range of factors discussed previously.
Fully capable of departing Los Angeles and starting fresh, Howard may finally be able to settle down and feel comfortable. Whether it's Houston, Dallas or even Atlanta, each destination presents an opportunity for Howard to craft a legacy on his own terms.
Howard has proven in the past that he's more than capable of being the centerpiece of a championship-caliber club, and he's being presented an opportunity to reprise that role once again.