The start of the 2012-2013 Los Angeles Lakers season has been rocky, to say the least.
A 1-4 start led to the firing of Mike Brown and a head coaching search at the beginning of the year. L.A. eventually settled on Mike D’Antoni over Phil Jackson, though the new coach has yet to be on the bench for the Lakers during a game.
All of this instability probably isn’t what Dwight Howard expected when he was traded to Los Angeles in the offseason. The deal sent Howard from the Orlando Magic with just one year remaining on the center’s contract.
Since the transaction, Howard has expressed an interest in staying with the Lakers in the long term, but let his contract expire in the summer. Howard will make more money by refusing to sign an extension, so it only makes sense that he will test the free agent market.
Los Angeles took a risk by trading Andrew Bynum, without a guarantee that Howard would stay with them. However, the organization figured they had a good chance of convincing Howard to stay. Playing alongside Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash, the Lakers believe they would be in a championship race all year with their current roster.
However, things haven’t exactly worked out as planned. Nash has a fractured left leg and could be out for a while. While there is still a great deal of basketball to be played, the Lakers may still have trouble getting out of the West.
With a lot of uncertainty in L.A, is there a real possibility of Howard signing with another team in 2013?
Since the trade, the Lakers have seemed like the best option for Howard. They will be able to give him the most money, and seemingly the best chance to win his first title. If the Lakers can’t turn things around, though, there’s a chance he could go somewhere else.
The Brooklyn Nets have been Howard’s preferred destination since last year. This past summer, he asked Orlando to trade him to Brooklyn, and even had previous conversations with Deron Williams about joining the point guard with the Nets.
Howard might want to play in the Big Apple, but the Nets might not have the ability to sign him. Their offseason moves, including trading for Joe Johnson and signing Gerald Wallace, have all but ended the possibility of Howard coming to Brooklyn as a free agent. The Nets would have to make multiple trades to free up cap space to sign him. With the team looking to make noise in the Eastern Conference this season, that doesn’t seem very likely.
According to Howard, his relationship with Williams may have been damaged by his decision to hold off his free agency until 2013. If Howard didn’t opt-in to the final year of his contract, he would’ve had a chance to sign with the Nets.
“It’s my life so if he’s upset because I made a decision for me, so be it,” said Howard, speaking of Williams. “If he doesn’t want to be friends because I’m on another team, then so be it. There’s no need to smooth things over.”
If the Nets aren’t in play for Howard in the summer, that won’t leave the three-time Defensive Player of the Year with many options. Playing for one of the teams in Texas could be the most likely scenario.
The Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets could have enough cap space to offer Howard a desirable contract. Each team has another star to pair with Howard. The Mavericks still have Dirk Nowitzki and Houston acquired James Harden just before the start of the season.
Still, both teams will have a hard time matching up with Los Angeles. Neither team is expected to do much this season. Getting an eighth seed might be considered an accomplishment for either squad.
There’s still a lot of time left for the Lakers to get back on track. D’Antoni is set to make his debut any day now, and his presence on the bench should help L.A. turn things around. Since Brown was fired, the team has won four-of-five games.
Despite the Lakers' early struggles, Howard has fit in well with his new teammates. Before the trade, there was some worry about how he and Bryant would coexist on offense, but the two have made a great pair.
The All-Stars are averaging a combined 46.4 points per game. Both players are scoring higher than their career averages, and even shooting a better percentage from the field. Bryant is on an unprecedented run for him, hitting almost 53 percent of his shots.
The biggest issue for Howard has been his back. He is not 100 percent healthy, and hasn’t been the dominant defensive presence that he was with the Magic. As the season progresses, he should return to his old form, according to medical professionals.
It’s not set in stone that Howard will re-sign with the Lakers, but they appear to be the frontrunners. The Nets probably aren’t a realistic option, and the Lakers give Howard the best chance to win.
If Howard continues to click with Bryant, the two could be the most dynamic duo in the NBA until Bryant decides to retire.