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Staying Put Good for Howard and Lakers

After Sunday’s humiliating first round playoff exit, the Los Angeles Lakers face two months of second-guessing, re-evaluation, and uncertainty.

On July 1, teams can once again begin signing free agents. That means the Lakers have (at least) 61 days until they know for certain whether or not Dwight Howard will be returning for a second season in purple and gold.

That’s a long time for a team currently suspended in limbo.

Before the corpse of the 2013 Lakers is even cold the postmortem has begun in the media with pundits and experts weighing in on discussions. Make no mistake about it; the Lakers front office began that postmortem a lot sooner than the media.

And the biggest question for Mitch Kupchak and the Buss family? Whether or not to keep Dwight Howard?

In reality, despite what Laker fans and the rest of the world might be thinking, this is an absolute no-brainer.

The Lakers must keep Howard, for now at least.

After a disappointing season, will the Lakers ask Dwight Howard to return for a second year?

After a disappointing season, will the Lakers ask Dwight Howard to return for a second year?

Why Howard is Good for the Lakers

Moody. Selfish. Childish. Unfocused. Wasteful. The Lakers organization has plenty of labels it can slap on Howard after his first season in Hollywood, waving goodbye to him in the process, but that would be an unequivocal mistake.

As much as some would like it to be true, the team’s abysmal season hardly lies on Howard’s shoulders alone. In fact, there’s only one player wearing the purple and gold that can hold his head up high after such a car wreck of a year, and the man wearing No. 24 isn’t exactly the sort of player to pride himself on a first-round exit.

The Lakers were miserable on defense. The team had no bench to speak of. The system was awkward and unsuitable. There was so much wrong with this team, and Howard was only a small part of that.

The Lakers would be advised to wait and see what Howard can do when fit and healthy, and when plugged into the right system. Address those issues and then evaluate his talent level.

Granted, signing Howard is going to cost the Lakers big time, with or without a Kobe Bryant amnesty, but what’s the alternative? Find a replacement in free agency? Raid the draft for a big man? Conjure up a trade?

Well, Andrew Bynum is just about the only big man that’s likely to be on the market as a free agent this summer. The Lakers aren’t going there.

Good luck as well finding a quality center with the No. 49 pick in the draft – the Lakers traded their first round pick to Cleveland for Ramon Sessions last year. Even if the team had a lottery pick, who would they select? Nerlens Noel? Kelly Olynyk? Gorgui Dieng? Cody Zeller? Be truthful here; would you trust any of those to be your center for the future? If your answer isn’t ‘no’, you’re deceiving yourself.

Which leaves a trade. In terms of trading Howard; that would mean a sign-and-trade deal, which gives Howard first refusal on where he ends up. So the Lakers would need to find somewhere Howard is willing to go, and hope that team has somebody worth reaching out to. Good luck on achieving both of those things. Howard would probably deny all trades just for the hell of it.

The alternative then is to let Howard go and try and trade for another big man, which opens up another problem; what trade bait does the team have? Pau Gasol? Metta World Peace? Steve Nash? Find a team that will be willing to take one (or all three) of these and offer a good deal in return. As for the rest of the squad, there’s nothing there any contender – you know, those teams with quality players – would be willing to look twice at.

So, signing Howard looks like the only option.

But what about his poor play and stinky attitude?

Here’s where the Lakers come up trumps. Sign Howard to that max-level extension and then give him a season to prove his worth. If he’s still a bad fit, ship him out. Because of his size and talent, teams are always going to be willing to give him a shot. Yes, you run the risk of getting a weaker deal in return (just ask Orlando), but with the bumper free agency due in summer 2014, there’s more than a slight chance of getting close to equitable return.

A probationary period would also give the Lakers time to put in some kind of effective back-up plan, one that doesn’t feature Andrew Bynum and a No. 49 pick.

In an ideal world, that additional year would give Howard time to properly acclimatize himself to Los Angeles and his team mates. That time, providing it is injury free, would also give him an opportunity to prove he still has the abilities that saw him lead the Orlando Magic to the 2009 NBA Finals.

Will it be all smiles if Howard decides to return to Los Angeles?

Will it be all smiles if Howard decides to return to Los Angeles?

Why the Lakers are Good for Howard

So, the Lakers know they need Howard, but does Howard need the Lakers?

In all honesty, Howard doesn’t need the Lakers but he’d be foolish to move on. We’ve got three reasons why.

Firstly, staying in Los Angeles has its financial perks, namely $30.4m. The Lakers can offer a max-level extension for five years, generating a total of $118m. If Howard ships out, he’ll be eligible for just a four-year contract worth $87.6m.

So that’s settled. Los Angeles makes financial sense.

Hold on just a moment. Yes, in theory it makes sense, but that is far from the end of the conversation.

Say Howard opts out and heads elsewhere, he’d be giving up just $1.7m per season pro rata. Albeit, he’d lose a fifth season, but you don’t think he could sign a deal and then restructure the contract after a season or two? Or, he signs for one year and then extends afterwards. The CBA may frown upon this – it may even prohibit it – but it just seems from this angle that the money the Lakers can offer isn’t as big an incentive as it might first seem, which brings us to point two.

Something the Lakers can offer that no other team can is good press.

If Howard returns to the Lakers he has an opportunity to rebuild his damaged reputation. He can pave over everything that happened in Orlando and everything that happened this season simply by putting his name on the dotted line.

Of course, he’ll need an attitude adjustment once the inks dry, but at least he’ll have the opportunity to improve his (currently low) stock. Heading to another team will just raise more eyebrows and ire.

Finally, there isn’t a team out there that offers Howard a better shot at a title. Okay, maybe Miami, but the Heat front office can’t afford the big man. Maybe in 2014, if LeBron James packs his bags.

The Lakers’ rich heritage of big men (George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal) demonstrates that the team knows the importance of having a dominant center. The Lakers won 14 titles with those four at center. The other two came with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol.

With the right moves this offseason, the Lakers could be geared to win a championship in 2014. Granted, there’s a lot of work to do, but the Lakers have a history of bouncing back from miserable seasons.

Even if those right moves (whatever they might be) aren’t made, it’s only a matter of time before the Lakers begin building around Howard, providing he hasn’t jumped the shark by that point. Kobe will retire and Howard will become the go-to-guy. Nobody doubts this. All that’s needed is a little patience.

That means sticking in Los Angeles, on the purple and gold side of the corridor, is surely the only decision Howard should make.

Of course, the move might appear to be beneficial to both parties but would it really be that big of a surprise to see the two part ways this summer?


Bovada  is currently offering the following odds as to where Howard will begin next season: LA Lakers 4/7; Houston 11/4; Dallas 3/1; Atlanta 6/1; Any Other 17/2

Meanwhile, Pau Gasol is 4/7 to begin next season with the Lakers and EVEN to start for any other side.

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