A few days into the NBA free agency period, the Los Angeles Lakers must start looking into the idea of a sign-and-trade involving Dwight Howard.
According to ESPN's Chris Broussard, the free agent is unlikely to re-sign with the team, so the Lakers are in a difficult situation. They can keep pushing to sign the free agent and risk losing him for nothing, or they can try to negotiate with another team in order to get something in return for the center.
By agreeing to a sign-and-trade, the Lakers would also be helping the man who decided to leave their city.
The Lakers can simply offer more years and more money than any other team. They can offer a five-year deal worth $118 million compared to the four years and $88 million that the other 29 teams can offer.
Howard would be able to get the extra money through a sign-and-trade, so it would benefit everyone involved.
But what could the Lakers get in return for Howard?
Marcus Thompson II of the Mercury News suggests that the Lakers could get a nice package from the Golden State Warriors.
Los Angeles would likely get Andrew Bogut and either Harrison Barnes or Klay Thompson from the Warriors. That would address two needs for the Lakers, and if he were to leave Los Angeles, the Lakers would probably prefer that he would join the Warriors over Houston, who many perceive to be Howard's No. 1 choice.
Golden State would have to do a sign-and-trade in order to get Howard. The Lakers would be able to demand whatever they wanted—within reason—if Howard chose the Warriors, as Golden State would presumably have to give up both size and a shooter.
Thompson would be ideal for the Lakers. He has shot 40.6 percent from three-point range in his career. He has also shot 43 percent from the floor and 85 percent from the line in his career, so he is a good all-around shooter.
Barnes shot only 35.9 percent from three-point range in limited playing time as a rookie last season. However, Stephen Curry was their go-to-guy from deep, so Barnes wasn't shooting many three-pointers.
Los Angeles can't afford to let the center go for nothing. Getting a center and a shooter in return would be too much to pass up, but not every other suitor would be able to offer a similar package.
A team like the Houston Rockets would benefit from a sign-and-trade. They don't have a lot of money to spare, so dumping some salary in a trade for Howard would be ideal.
If the Rockets were able to get Howard, they'd be looking to trade Jeremy Lin or Omer Asik. The Lakers would benefit from getting Asik because he would give them size. He's not a great player, but he would be a solid replacement for Howard at center. Asik would also allow Pau Gasol to be a true power forward.
Asik averaged 10.1 points, 11.7 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game last season. The 26-year-old isn't at the same level of Howard, but he has shown good potential.
The team also needs help on the perimeter, but that is not Lin's strength. He has only shot 33.2 percent from three-point range in his career.
Between the two players, Asik would be the better fit with the Lakers. Lin could develop into a better shooter eventually, but he won't upgrade the Lakers' perimeter shooting in the short-term.
Reagrdless, Houston looks like the favorite to land Howard, so Los Angeles needs to explore the idea of making a deal with the Rockets in the event that Howard decides that's where he wants to go.
The Lakers need to get something in return for the seven-time All-Star.
Refusing to do a sign-and-trade may put Howard in a tough spot. He may be expecting his new team to agree to a sign-and-trade and get the money, or it could just be a test. Chances are he's not chasing the money.
According to ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin and Ramona Shelburne, titles are more important to Howard at this point in his career.
Should the Lakers do a sign-and-trade if D12 wants to leave?
Houston is not the ideal partner for a sign-and-trade, but the Lakers will still need to get players in return for Howard.
They could just let him walk and chase perimeter shooters in free agency instead. In truth, doing a sign-and-trade could hurt the Lakers' chances of getting premier free agents next year, but Kobe Bryant is in win-now mode, and the team needs to get a deal done. Plus, by the time Howard makes up his mind, the best shooters may have already found a new home anyway.
Howard is too good of a player to simply let walk. Getting a shooter in return is the top priority, but it would be ideal to get a big man as well.
The Lakers may not want to help Howard get the extra money, but it would help the franchise compete next season if they were able to get a sign-and-trade done.
*All statistics are courtesy of NBA.com