As with every summer and NBA off-season, the biggest topic (aside from the draft) will undoubtedly be free agents. The top question on the mind of every Lakers’ fan, and every fan of a team with cap space, will of course be “Where will Dwight Howard sign?” Howard, as everyone already knows, will be an unrestricted free agent as of July 1, meaning he is free to sign with any team with cap space, or his previous team regardless of their cap situation. While it makes plenty of sense (both logistical and financial) to stay in LA, Howard will be heavily pursued by other attractive markets, namely Houston, Dallas, and his home-town Atlanta Hawks. There are of course many pros to re-signing with the Lakers, but also a few cons as well.
Let’s take a look at the pros; under the rules of the new CBA, the Lakers can offer him more years and money than any other team (this designed to prevent star players from walking away, ie LeBron). While I don’t have the exact numbers in front of me, I believe Howard can sign a maximum 5 year, $120 million deal with the Lakers, as opposed to 4 years, $100 million elsewhere. So if Howard were to leave, he’d be leaving at least $20 million on the table. Also, in terms of finances, LA is the second largest market in the world, and the entertainment capital of the world. In other words, there are endorsement opportunities GALORE in the city of angels.
Another pro is that these are the Lakers. Not only are they one of the most popular team in all of professional sports, they are an American brand. This is a historical sports franchise that desperately wants Dwight Howard to represent them for years to come, and have every intention of rebuilding another championship team around him. The Lakers have a long history of hall of fame centers (Kareem, Shaq, just to name a couple), and they fact they want Howard to be next in line would at least flatter anybody who appreciates the history of the game. Perhaps he doesn’t want that responcibility, or that pressure, but as Mitch Kupchack said last summer “The Lakers don’t have a history of losing free agents.”
Howard is already semi established with the Lakers and in Los Angeles. He has been living here for over a year (rehabbing from back surgery), and has been courted by the fans from day 1. He has felt the love, and seen the passion of Lakers’ fans. Howard has openly admitted that he has a strong desire to be liked by everybody, which led to the debacle in Orlando. He is already hated there, and I can’t see someone who wants to be liked so badly make a conscious choice to be hated in a 2nd NBA city, let alone by one as passionate as the Lakers’ fan base.
There are a couple reasons not to stay with the Lakers though; The Lakers are quite old, and not getting any younger. While they will have an abundance of cap space in 2014, many of those free agent plans are built around the idea of Howard being the franchise center. If he doesn’t stay, those plans become much more murky. There is also no garuntee of the free agent market next summer (many of the potential free agents only have early termination clauses, which they may not exercise), so Howard could be signing up for a very un-certain future. Other team have both cap space, and an already young core that is just a dominant big man away from being a true contendor, especially if they can somehow the other hot free agent to be, Chris Paul. So while leaving the Lakers and millions of dollars on the table may seem ludicrous at first glance, it may not be as foolish as one might think when one takes a good, hard look.