Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted Friday afternoon that Howard is leaving Los Angeles and finalizing a deal with Houston, and the Lakers were notified shortly thereafter (also via Wojnarowski).
It's looking like Dwight is on his way out of Tinseltown, which means L.A. needs to find a low-post player in the short term and for the future.
Due to the new collective bargaining agreement, the Lakers can't simply use the money they would have spent on retaining Howard on another free agent. Instead, they have about $1.59 million to work with for 2013-14.
In 2014, however, general manager Mitch Kupchak will have ample resources, as almost everyone's contracts come off the books. Then, he can hunt for a premier free agent to replace Howard unless he trades for one sooner.
What are Los Angeles' best realistic options in the paint? Find out as we break down the top candidates.
Kenyon Martin isn't a true center, but he can play the five against many of today's small-ball lineups.
With he and Pau Gasol patrolling the paint, and with Jordan Hill bringing power off the bench, the Lakers wouldn't dominate, but they would hold the fort down until 2014.
Obviously, this wouldn't be the ideal scenario for Los Angeles, but K-Mart's affordability makes him a workable option. The Lakers don't have much financial flexibility until 2014, so Martin is one of the more attractive cheap options to tide them over for one season.
Don't underestimate Martin's effectiveness, even though he's 35 years old. According to 82games.com, the New York Knicks scored at a higher rate when he was on the court, and they also surrendered fewer points to opponents. He won't disappoint defensively and on the boards.
It wouldn't be a championship-caliber unit, but Martin will ensure the Lakers aren't pushovers.
This is probably the most likely short-term option for Los Angeles.
While Jordan Hill and Pau Gasol wouldn't be the most dynamic or intimidating tandem, they would certainly provide plenty of size and a decent mix of rebounding and offensive skill.
When Hill was healthy in 2012-13, he put up some solid per-minute numbers, the best of his career so far.
He scored 15.2 points and grabbed 13 rebounds per 36 minutes, including 6.4 offensive boards. With him crashing the boards and Gasol making plays offensively, the Lakers could get solid all-around production from their frontcourt.
Los Angeles doesn't need a ton of scoring or playmaking from Hill if Gasol, Bryant and Nash stay healthy. But a deep playoff run is highly unlikely.
When Mitch Kupchak has piles of money to work with in the 2014 offseason, there are several different routes he can take.
If he doesn't land a superstar via trade or free agency, he could land a dependable anchor like Marcin Gortat.
Solid but not spectacular, Gortat will be 30 years old when the 2014 campaign tips off. He's effective in pick-and-roll situations, has a couple of effective post moves, and will clean up the defensive glass. Don't expect him to excel on the offensive boards against the more athletic centers in the league.
A career 55 percent shooter, Gortat's best season came in 2011-12 when he scored 15.4 points and snatched 10 rebounds per contest.
Asking for those kind of numbers in L.A. is unfair, but he should flirt with a double-double in Tinseltown.
Rising star Greg Monroe of the Detroit Pistons will be a restricted free agent in 2014, and his current club will do everything they can to keep him.
If Los Angeles offers him a truckload of cash, and the Pistons already have too much money tied up in Andre Drummond and other pieces, there's a chance he could end up in purple and gold.
Monroe is more of a power forward skill-wise, but he has the height to play the four or five. He notched 16 points, 9.6 boards and 3.5 assists per night in 2012-13, exhibiting great offensive instincts as a scorer and passer.
He would be 24 years old entering the 2014-15 season, an excellent low-post cornerstone for the future.
Talent-wise, DeMarcus Cousins is the most attractive long-term choice for the Lakers.
The Sacramento Kings center becomes a restricted free agent in 2014, and Los Angeles will be one of the primary clubs in pursuit of him.
He brings major character question marks, as his first three NBA seasons were littered with disputes and feuds with his coaches and management. If he can keep his cool and stay focused in 2013-14, his on-court production will be well worth it for L.A. in 2014 and beyond.
Cousins can torch opponents in post-up situations with the ability to spin, pivot and finish with either hand. Cousins can also bury the mid-range jumper or slash to the hoop with a couple of dribbles.
By the time his Lakers opportunity rolls around, he will be a more level-headed and efficient player, ready to dominate in the prime of his career.