All this watching and waiting for Dwight to come to a decision from his hideaway in Aspen, Colorado appears to be getting to the Los Angeles Lakers. According to ESPN's Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne, the Purple and Gold are now reconsidering their previously held stance against any and all sign-and-trade scenarios amidst growing concern that Howard will want to play elsewhere.
The Golden State Warriors would be the most clear-cut candidate to talk shop with the Lakers in such a manner. They lack the cap space to sign Dwight outright, but sport the requisite enticements (Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes) and expiring contracts (Andrew Bogut, Andris Biedrins, Richard Jefferson) to make it work.
The Houston Rockets, considered the frontrunners to win these sweepstakes before they began, could have the room to acquire Howard without LA's help with a few tweaks to their roster. But they may need the Lakers to partake in the transaction if Dwight insists on bringing Josh Smith, a fellow free agent and longtime friend, with him to Space City.
As for the Dallas Mavericks and the Atlanta Hawks, there's no indication yet that either team would try for a sign-and-trade. Nor is either considered a frontrunner to land Howard's signature at this point in time.
But what should the Lakers do if Dwight does, indeed, want to ditch LA? Should they try to get something tangible for him? Or should they let him walk and hoard the savings therein?
Let's see if we can sneak a peak inside Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak's mind at the moment, shall we?
The benefit of a sign-and-trade with the Warriors for the Lakers all depends on that with which Golden State is willing to part for Dwight Howard.
If the Dubs had their druthers, they probably wouldn't think twice about dumping everyone but Stephen Curry to land Howard. Say what you want about his personality or his apparent struggles in LA last season, but the guy is a supreme talent when healthy and was far from fit in a Lakers uniform.
Thing is, so much of the Warriors' appeal as a potential contender stems from keeping their trio of shooters (i.e. Curry, Klay Thompson, and Harrison Barnes) to space the floor for Howard in the middle. Losing both—or even just one—could injure their standing in Dwight's eyes.
A package including Thompson and Barnes, while not a "no-brainer" per se, would do plenty to soothe the pain of losing Howard for the Lakers. An either/or scenario, with Andrew Bogut's expiring contract (and perhaps a draft pick) thrown in, might suffice as well.
And would probably be much more amenable from Golden State's perspective.
That way, the Lakers would, at the very least, add some temporary filler for their otherwise-thin front court while tacking on a wing who can cover for the injured Kobe Bryant now and serve as a building block for the future. Moreover, as Grantland's Bill Simmons pointed out, the Lakers could consider such a trade as an opportunity to dump an aging Steve Nash and clear even more salary off the books for the summer of 2014.
And if the Dubs were to give into the Lakers' apparent demands for Thompson and Barnes (per Mike Bresnahan of The Los Angeles Times), then all the better.
As opposed to the alternative, which is to let the Dubs clear enough cap space and sign Howard for nothing in return (more on that later).
Still, the Lakers have to ask themselves: do they want to facilitate the creation of another superpower in their own division?
The Los Angeles Clippers already have the makings of one, with Chris Paul re-upping, Doc Rivers taking over on the bench, and JJ Redick and Jared Dudley filling the wings and flinging three-pointers. Facilitating Dwight's flight to Oakland would put the Warriors on a similar track, with arguably the NBA's top inside-out tandem, between Howard and Steph Curry, constituting the core of their club.
Would blockbuster free agents interested in the Lakers be turned off from having to compete in a loaded Pacific Division? Probably not, though there'd likely be some consideration of the competition among those looking for a surer path to championship contention.
Of course, there's the usual matter of the Lakers not getting anything close to equal value for what they'd be giving up. Klay Thompson's as streaky as they come and saw his shooting percentages dip in Year 2. Harrison Barnes showed some intriguing potential during these past playoffs, but still doesn't grade out as a star.
Moreover, if the Lakers aren't going to contend in 2013-14, would they really want to take the one-year salaries of Bogut, Biedrins, and/or Jefferson and the luxury tax penalties that they'd tack on? Or have to concern themselves with extending a player like Thompson after next season?
And if it turns out that the Warriors can't accommodate Dwight without LA's help—which is a distinct possibility, considering the myriad moving parts at play—then why would the Lakers willingly lend a helping hand to their NorCal rivals?
The Lakers' internal debate would be somewhat similar if Howard were to hone in on Houston, which ESPN's Marc Stein says is (or could be) Dwight's top destination.
Houston would likely offer a package built around Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin in exchange for Dwight. Asik has established himself as one of the NBA's premier defensive centers after his first year as a starter. Lin, on the other hand, enjoyed his greatest run of success (i.e. LINSANITY!) while playing for Mike D'Antoni's New York Knicks in 2011-12.
Granted, the Rockets might not need to talk shop with the Lakers to lure Dwight to Texas. They should have enough cap space to sign him on their own, after sending Thomas Robinson to the Portland Trail Blazers and assuming GM Daryl Morey cuts ties with some other players, as Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal notes.
But if Dwight's demands include bringing aboard Josh Smith, Howard's childhood buddy, then it'd behoove the Rockets to clear as much room on their payroll as possible to fit both ATLiens into their plans.
The issue of helping to create a superteam in Texas might not matter quite so much to the Lakers as it would with the Warriors. Sure, the Rockets would still block LA's path out of the Western Conference for the next four years, but at least the regional competition wouldn't be quite so stiff.
The bigger concerns for the Lakers in this situation rest with the players they'd be taking back. Omer Asik would be a solid addition, but he's rather limited offensively and, as a result, could put a crimp in D'Antoni's plans in that regard.
As for Jeremy Lin...well, let's just say, it doesn't reflect well on him that he lost his starting job to and was rendered expendable by a guy, in Patrick Beverley, who'd bounced between teams in Ukraine, Greece, Russia, and the D-League before landing with the Rockets.
More importantly, Asik and Lin, with their identical $8.374 million salaries, would soak up much of that precious cap space in 2014 that the Lakers had otherwise designated for marquee free agents. Omer and Jeremy (Omeremy?) may be solid players, but are they good enough to A) entice someone like Carmelo Anthony to leave New York, B) convince LA to surrender its pursuit of TWO max signees next summer, and C) justify the Lakers paying a massive luxury tax bill for a 2013-14 team that'd be lucky to advance out of the first round of the playoffs?
I'll leave the answer to that to your imagination.
For the Lakers, allowing Dwight Howard to leave for nothing in return is all about preserving cap space for the summer of 2014.
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and Carmelo Anthony will be free to opt out of their current contracts. Paul George, John Wall, Greg Monroe, Derrick Favors, Eric Bledsoe, and DeMarcus Cousins could all be restricted free agents, depending on which of those players are extended by the end of October. And Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol might be willing to take steep pay cuts to stay in LA.
If the Lakers let Dwight walk, they could have upwards of $50 million in cap room with which to lure two max-level players from that bunch. Thus, in the blink of an eye, the Purple and Gold could be back in the title hunt.
And without doing anything proactive to boost the title hopes of a Western Conference foe.
Would the Lakers really let Dwight walk away for nothing?
After all the hard work Mitch Kupchak put in last summer to concoct the four-team blockbuster that excised Howard from the Orlando Magic? After all the concessions Mike D'Antoni made with his preferred style of play to appease Dwight's demands? After everything the organization has done in its attempts to put Kobe in position to win a sixth ring?
Also, would having a roster that so closely resembles John Locke's tabula rasa actually strengthen the Lakers' hand on the free agent market next summer? Having oodles of cap space is great and all, but how many superstars would want to join a team that would literally have one player—a 40-year-old Steve Nash—under contract?
The Lakers in 2014 would hardly be on par with the Miami Heat circa 2010. Back then, the Heat had a strong in with Dwyane Wade, who'd already won a title in Miami and, at the time, was still one of the three-to-five best basketball players on the planet.
It's tough to imagine a 35-year-old Kobe Bryant, fresh off an Achilles injury, and a mid-30s Pau Gasol having the same cachet, assuming the former doesn't retire and the latter doesn't flee for more welcoming climes.
With that in mind, it might behoove the Lakers to use Dwight to acquire some useful players—particularly if those happen to be Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes—if the fresh Aspen air leads him to settle on a new home.
And if Howard opts to stay in LA, then the Lakers won't have to worry about any of this, now will they?