Dwight Howard may be flexing his Superman muscles somewhere else next season.
Free agency opened July 1, and plenty of teams have already taken advantage of the available talent pool (shout out to Andre Iguodala for joining the "Splash Brothers" in Golden State, making the Warriors my favorite backcourt in the NBA). However, basketball fans like myself have been waiting all week to see where the fickle 6'11" center will splash next.
It's been an incredibly frustrating waiting period, as only the sources closest to Dwight know what he will choose and they're all holed up together somewhere in Colorado. But listen to me complain. The Los Angeles Lakers have been pitching their message to the big man for quite some time now, vesting their interest in Howard since GM Mitch Kupchak traded for him last summer.
Before I plunge into my views on Howard and his decision, which have me all riled up these days, let's examine what side options the Lakers have been pursuing since the NBA Finals ended in another Miami Heat victory.
To be completely honest, whether Dwight picks L.A. or not doesn't change the terrible financial situation the Lakers are in under the new collective bargaining agreement. Kobe Bryant's $30 million dollar contract—along with Pau Gasol's $19 million, Steve Nash's $9.3 million and Metta World Peace's $7.7 million—have left the management with little room to negotiate this year.
None of the big-name free agents on the market this year can be signed with the bankroll the Lakers have to offer. However, the front office still has significant holes to fill around the perimeter. The Lakers need both shooting help and athleticism, which was particularly nonexistent on the defensive end.
In order to stop some of the backcourt bleeding, Jabari Davis of Hoopsworld reports that the Lakers could seek the help of point guards like Darren Collison or Will Bynum. Again, only speculation, but Los Angeles only has the mini mid-level exception (roughly $9 million over three years) to offer prospective talent.
As far as frontcourt acquisitions not named Dwight, the Lakers are rumored to be interested in former Charlotte Bobcat big man Byron Mullens, according to Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles. He's been in the NBA five years, but is only 24 and would replace the boost that Earl Clark provided the Lakers last season. Clark is already on his way to Cleveland to join the Cavaliers.
Other than that, concrete negotiations will continue to be at a minimum until the front office hears from Howard's camp. I don't blame the Lakers for laying low whilst waiting for the big man's call; all other moves this offseason will be a consequence of his decision, for better or for worse.
Which finally brings me to the big man himself.
The Lakers have officially gone all-in for Dwight, offering him a maximum contract for five years and $118 million. Other teams—narrowed down to the Warriors, Houston Rockets and Atlanta Hawks—can only offer four years at $88 million.
Kupchak and Jim Buss' offer is pretty generous for a few reasons that I can see.
First, Dwight has had ample opportunities to jump on the Lakers bandwagon, but still hasn't. Historically speaking, this would seem a wise decision for Howard, as he could follow in the footsteps of former Laker greats Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O'Neal.
How soon will the Lakers be back in NBA title contention?
Second, the salary situation is going to rock the Lakers over the next 12 months, until all guarantees are cleared at the end of the 2014 postseason. Owing Dwight hundreds of millions isn't the best way to reshape the organization under the new CBA rules.
Lastly, the NBA is trending more and more toward athleticism over size. I know they have LeBron so it's not fully fair to compare, but the Heat have won two straight titles without a legitimate center. And don't tell me Udonis Haslem or Chris Anderson are prototypical centers.
Whatever he decides, whenever he decides it, Dwight Howard will seismically alter the state of the Lakers organization. The latest report, via Sam Amick of USA Today, is that Dwight wants to be a Rocket. Read the full story here.