Los Angeles Lakers Reportedly Losing Hope that Dwight Howard Will Return

Greg SwartzCleveland Cavaliers Lead WriterJuly 5, 2013

EL SEGUNDO, CA - AUGUST 10:  Dwight Howard (L) walks with General Manager Mitch Kupchak of the Los Angeles Lakers being introduced as the newest member of the Lakers at a news conference at the Toyota Sports Center on August 10, 2012 in El Segundo, California. The Lakers acquired Howard from Orlando Magic in a four-team trade. In addition Lakers wil receive Chris Duhon and Earl Clark from the Magic.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Free-agent megastar Dwight Howard may finally be close to making his decision, and it doesn't look good for the Los Angeles Lakers

According to a report from ESPN's Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne, the Lakers are having serious doubts about Howard's willingness to re-sign with them. 

From the report:

After team sources initially indicated the Lakers were feeling better about their chances after their face-to-face meeting with [Dwight] Howard on Tuesday than they did coming into it, pessimism began to creep back in Thursday, stemming mostly from ongoing questions outside and inside team headquarters about Howard's ability and willingness to co-exist alongside Kobe Bryant and play for coach Mike D'Antoni.

While the Lakers can offer the most money to Howard over the duration of a contract (five years, $118 million compared to four years, $88 million), the questions surrounding Bryant, D'Antoni and the Lakers' future may be enough to scare Howard into signing elsewhere.

The Houston Rockets assume the role of favorites, as three of their top performers last season—Jeremy Lin, James Harden and Chandler Parsons—are 24 years of age or younger, representing a core Howard could grow and develop with.

Harden, unlike Bryant in L.A., is under contract past the 2013-14 season and is someone Howard can rely on in the long-term. Teams like the Lakers and Dallas Mavericks can pitch their cap space in 2014 to Howard all they want, but the Rockets already have a superstar inked for the foreseeable future.

The Lakers, who were once thought to be completely dismissive of a possible sign-and-trade options involving Howard, are now reportedly looking into such an idea, per the ESPN report.

Hoping to keep their cap space open in 2014, L.A. likely wouldn't bring back any long-term contracts in a deal for Howard. That being said, letting the best center in the game today walk out the door with absolutely nothing in return wouldn't be a wise decision either.

The Lakers, as well as the four other teams Howard met with this week, should know of his plans in the coming days.

For L.A. general manager Mitch Kupchak, though, it may be time to get some trade talks going.