Despite all of the trade rumors surrounding Dwight Howard, the Los Angeles Lakers have decided to keep the big man for the rest of the season.
Multiple teams were interested in trading young talent to acquire Howard. Still, L.A. chose to keep the core of its roster intact.
At 26-29 and currently out of the playoffs, the Lakers are not a threat to win a championship this season. They may have missed a golden opportunity by holding on to the NBA’s best center.
The Brooklyn Nets and Dallas Mavericks have been positioning themselves to make a run at Howard. Both teams could have sent Los Angeles a package of players that would have helped their salary cap situation, as well as their roster, going forward.
Even when he was playing for the Orlando Magic, the Nets were looking to move Brook Lopez in a deal for Howard. The Lakers likely could have gotten the center, as well as MarShon Brooks and a draft pick for the All-Star.
A year ago, Lopez wasn’t considered to be nearly as good as his counterpart. While Howard is still regarded as the game’s best big man, Lopez has, somewhat, closed the gap this season. The Nets center has performed better, averaging 2.4 more points per game and led his team to six more wins before the All-Star break.
The Mavericks have been hoping to sign Howard in the summer, but would have been willing to make a trade for their top target. They could have sent L.A. Chris Kaman, O.J. Mayo and Shawn Marion.
Mayo is one of the best bargains in the NBA. He’s averaging 17.8 points per game and is set to make just over $4 million next season. Kaman will be a free agent in the summer and would help free up cap space for Los Angeles. Marion has a player option for next season, and continues to be a solid performer at age 34.
Instead, the Lakers have an unhappy player who can sign with multiple teams in the offseason. Los Angeles can offer Howard more money than any other team, but his poor relationship with Kobe Bryant and the team’s inability to get above .500 might cause the Lakers to lose him for nothing.
Even without a guarantee that Howard will return beyond 2013, general manager Mitch Kupchak told ESPN Radio’s Colin Cowherd that the center is the Lakers future.
"Kobe [Bryant] has one more year on his deal,” said Kupchak. “That's all I can bank on or this organization can bank on. I have no idea if he wants to continue to play beyond next year. As of now, we're looking at a two-year window, [and that] plays to the urgency of the situation and how we build the team. ... This team's window to win is this year and next year."
Howard has struggled this season, failing to exhibit the athleticism he showcased before his back surgery in April. His injury has inhibited his performance, and there is no guarantee that he will return to his old form.
On Wednesday, though, Howard looked very much like his old self. He grabbed 12 rebounds and scored 24 points on just 13 field goal attempts. It was the Lakers first game since the death of owner Jerry Buss, and they beat the Boston Celtics by 14 points, seemingly playing with extra motivation against their historic rival. With all of Howard’s struggles this year, Thursday might have been the perfect time to deal the 27-year-old.
Now, Howard will play out the rest of the season in L.A. The Lakers are still the favorites to re-sign the center, and Wednesday’s performance may have proven that Howard is too good to trade.
However, the organization may regret their decision if Howard is gone after just one year.