The Dwight Howard sweepstakes has reached the critical stages, and according to ESPN's Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne, things don't look too good for the Los Angeles Lakers.
It's possible that the Lakers have fallen as far as fourth in Howard's pecking order for potential destinations, and even though he is notoriously indecisive, the Lakers should prepare for the worst.
According to the same article, Los Angeles is reportedly considering sign-and-trade deals for Howard in an attempt to salvage something if Howard signals that he will not re-sign.
Previously, the Lakers were against a sign-and-trade deal for Howard because they wanted to pay as little as possible in taxes under the NBA's punitive new collective bargaining agreement. They also wanted to keep cap space clear in anticipation of the free-agent class in the summer of 2014.
Los Angeles has shown no panic in their resolve throughout the process so far, and they shouldn't panic now. If Howard wants to walk, they should let him walk and avoid taking on any cumbersome contracts in a sign-and-trade.
The summer of 2014 should be significant for the Lakers since the only player presumably under contract at that time will be Steve Nash. In the interim, maybe the Lakers should consider bringing Andrew Bynum back into the fold.
It may seem crazy to think of Bynum returning to Los Angeles, but distance lends perspective, and despite Bynum's reluctance to work out for teams that are thinking about signing him, he must be taking an inventory of where his career stands now.
The prospects of Bynum signing a max-deal are history, and the Philadelphia 76ers decision to trade for rookie Nerlens Noel confirms that they have little interest in re-signing Bynum either.
However, that doesn't mean that no one is willing to take a chance on the highly talented but oft-injured and immature center.
As reported by Tim MacMahon of ESPN Dallas, Bynum's agent David Lee confirmed that the Dallas Mavericks have contacted him about Bynum in case their pursuit of Howard doesn't work out. And I'm sure once the Howard situation is settled, other teams will emerge with interest in Bynum as well.
Despite his injuries and his attitude, players with Bynum's size and skill set don't come around very often, and also according to Lee, Bynum expects to be healthy by the time training camp rolls around.
I'm not sure if Bynum would consider playing with Kobe Bryant and the Lakers again, but he did help lead the franchise to two NBA championships, and he obviously enjoyed his time in Los Angeles.
The prospects of playing beside Nash could also be intriguing for Bynum, and he always displayed good chemistry with Pau Gasol in the post.
It would be a risk for the Lakers to bring Bynum back, but it's one they could manage since they would have the upper hand in the negotiation process.
A two-year deal in the $13-$16 million range should be enough to pique Bynum's interest, and it would still allow the Lakers some financial freedom once 2014 rolls around.
Howard's decision is expected sometime today, and while the Lakers can offer more money, the proven ability to rebuild and the L.A. lifestyle, Howard seems to be leaning toward a pairing with James Harden in Houston.
Should the Lakers Bring Andrew Bynum Back?
And so what if Howard goes? The Lakers' franchise will not crumble without his presence, and his absence actually makes going forward a little easier for a team who will have tons of cap room to spare in the near future.
But while the Lakers are waiting for Bryant to heal and for the summer of 2014 to arrive, they should take another long, hard look at Bynum.
Bynum has had a little time to grow up and reflect on his career, and I'm sure team president Jim Buss will be interested in him since discovering Bynum is the only positive contribution he's ever made to his deceased father's legacy.