The Los Angeles Lakers reportedly seem resigned to the fact that superstar center Dwight Howard will not return to the team after only one season.
According to ESPN's Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne, sources are saying the Lakers organization is fearing the worst when it comes to Howard, as the franchise may be as low as fourth on the 27-year-old's preferred list of suitors.
The report also notes that the Lakers weren't even considering a sign-and-trade proposition involving Howard, but now that his departure is likely imminent, that thinking may change:
One source briefed on the Lakers' thinking told ESPN.com that, if the extra fifth year and nearly $30 million they can offer Howard isn't enough to hold off the competition, they would be forced to "look at everything".
When the Lakers met with Howard on Tuesday, the sentiment was more optimistic than before the sit-down that he would re-sign in the City of Angels. However, late on Thursday, the doubts returned.
What is mainly concerning those involved in trying to convince Howard to return is his unwillingness to co-exist with all-time great Kobe Bryant and play under head coach Mike D'Antoni.
What is the best destination for Dwight Howard?
It appears at this point that the Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks are the top contenders to land Howard, but the Golden State Warriors' meeting on Monday, per Stein and Shelburne, impacted Howard and now is a possible dark horse destination.
Andrew Bogut, Richard Jefferson and Andres Biedrins all have expiring contracts and could clear enough cap space for Howard's exorbitant contract. Per the ESPN report, Bogut's salary for 2013-14 is $14 million, while Jefferson's is $11 million and Biedrins is slated to make $9 million.
Peter Vecsey reported that the Warriors feel they have trade partners willing to take on all three contracts, too:
From what I'm told, should Howard decide on GST, & LA is unwilling 2 sign-trade, it has teams willing 2 assume salaries of AB, Biedrins & RJ— Peter Vecsey (@PeterVecsey1) July 5, 2013
In light of these circumstances, it appears that the Lakers are indeed in danger of losing out on Howard. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports documented what Bryant apparently said to Howard in the Lakers' recruiting pitch:
You need to learn how it's done first, and I can teach you here. I know how to do it and I've learned from the best—players who have won multiple times over and over. Instead of trying to do things your way, just listen and learn and tweak it, so it fits you.
If it is about winning for Howard, it's difficult for LA to convince him that it's his best option with two aging members of his top supporting cast in Bryant and Steve Nash and Howard's reported distaste for D'Antoni's style of play (via Chris Broussard of ESPN).
The moratorium for players to sign new contracts is lifted July 10, so Howard still has time to make the decision that will define the next stage of his career.
Unfortunately for Laker Nation, it's becoming increasingly likely that he's a one-and-done in Los Angeles.