Lakers contingency plan: What happens if Dwight leaves?

According to ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard, there is "very little chance" that Dwight Howard re-signs with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Here's the scoop from Broussard:

Howard is willing to forgo the extra $30 million the Lakers can pay him to play for a coach and in a system he feels will better use his skill set, one source said.

The Lakers can offer Howard a five-year, $118 million contract, while other teams can pay him only $88 million over four years.

Howard plans to meet with the Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets and Atlanta Hawks before meeting with the Lakers once teams are allowed to contact free agents beginning July 1, a source said. It appears that the teams will visit Howard in Los Angeles.

According to this breakdown by an accountant, the financial difference is realistically $9.3 million should Howard choose Houston over L.A.

But enough about why Howard would leave. The question for the Lakers is, what do they do if Howard does indeed bolt?

I explored this scenario when detailing the Lakers' offseason options a couple of weeks ago.

The first decision the Lakers would have to make is whether they plan to simply let Howard walk, or try to work with him on a sign-and-trade deal.

Here is how I outlined the trade scenario:

The Lakers have made it clear that it is not their intention to help push Howard out the door, but if Howard comes to them after July 1 and says he doesn't want to stay, L.A. will have no choice but to consider it. While the Lakers can't receive a player via a sign and trade because of their cap position, they can send out a player this way, so they would be able to sign Howard to a four-year, $87.6 million deal and trade him (Howard can only receive the full five-year, $118 million if he stays a Laker). Then it becomes a question of what L.A. could get for him. Would the crosstown Clippers really give up both Blake Griffin and Eric Bledsoe? What if it was DeAndre Jordan and Bledsoe? If the Warriors make an offer centered on either Klay Thompson or Harrison Barnes, does the Lakers' interest perk up? What about Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin from Houston?

Part of running an NBA team is being in the business of acquiring assets. Clearly, the Lakers don't want to part with a player like Howard who might be the second best two-way player in the game behind LeBron James. They want him to become the next great center to follow in the footsteps of George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O'Neal. But if Howard has no interest in that, you would have to think L.A. would want to receive something in return -- draft picks or young talent, if not another All-Star player -- than have him walk and leave the Lakers with nothing to show for it.

If they trade Howard, the Warriors deal seems the most appealing. But say Houston clears enough space to sign Howard outright, it wouldn't make any sense at that point for Howard to facilitate a sign-and-trade just so L.A. gets something out of him in return. Houston is a much more appealing destination when he has guys like Asik, Lin and Chandler Parsons waiting for him as teammates than it is with a few of them going to the purple and gold in exchange.

Trading Howard also means that the Lakers don't necessarily keep Pau Gasol. If they trade Howard for Asik, for instance, that would mean Gasol would be out the door, either through the amnesty clause (saving L.A. close to $60 million all told), or through a trade if they can find one.

The more likely scenario would be the Lakers saying goodbye to Howard and not receiving anything in return, as I wrote earlier:

This play would be all about keeping the books clear for 2014-15. The Lakers would enter next season with a core of Bryant, Gasol and Steve Nash, which they were comfortable as their plan for next season until Howard finally fell in their laps in August. Add in a couple of heady free-agent acquisitions -- picking up a guy like Francisco Garcia for the mini mid-level, or someone like Brandan Wright or Donte Greene for the minimum -- and with a stroke of good luck when it comes to health and the Lakers would still be competitive in 2013-14 while setting up for a major revamp the following season.

In 2014-15, seemingly the whole NBA world can become available for free agency, starting with the league's crown jewel in James, but also other franchise-type players in Carmelo Anthony, Paul George, John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins. Currently, the only player the Lakers have under contract beyond next season is Nash, meaning if Bryant agrees to a much more reasonable extension than the $30.4 million he'll make next season, the Lakers could have their Hall of Fame backcourt of Nash and Bryant for 2014-15 along with two other max-level free agents to try to go for the title. Plus, Gasol could stay on board as well if he were willing to take a major pay cut down to mini mid-level territory as well.

If Howard were to leave, history will still look favorably on the Lakers' deal to acquire him. Yes, the plan was to have him be the face of the franchise, but just look back at what it took to get him:

L.A. traded Andrew Bynum, Josh McRoberts, Christian Eyenga, a protected first-round pick in 2017 and a conditional second-rounder in 2015. L.A. received Howard -- who was an All-Star and the main reason the Lakers made the playoffs -- as well as Earl Clark and Chris Duhon -- who both filled in as starters at times, and Clark could have a future with the Lakers if the price is right.

Not only did Howard give them a solid year of service while Bynum did not play a single game for Philadelphia because of his knees, but the trade also eliminated the difficult decision of whether to extend a max offer to the balky Bynum.

All of this could be moot if Howard chooses L.A., of course. Time will tell.