L.A.'s still his best option
Dwight Howard's back isn't 100 percent yet, his shoulder keeps getting whacked, his team lacks chemistry and his season -- which should've been one of redemption -- is starting to slip away. In the past few weeks, Howard's time here in Los Angeles has gone from frustrating to a full-on flop.
All of that is awful news for Howard and the Lakers, but none of that means he is going to leave in the offseason.
Howard loves living in Los Angeles and has appeared on TV and in films, but there are three immutable reasons why he not only should stay but likely will stay.
1. Signing elsewhere as a free agent leaves an entire season and more than $20 million on the table because of the way the NBA's new collective bargaining agreement is structured. Yes, he can make that up with his next contract, but for a guy coming off back surgery and seemingly another hard foul away from major shoulder surgery, security matters.
2. He's already played his "trade-me" card. An NBA player essentially gets one tantrum a career. Kobe Bryant had his after the 2006 season when he asked to be traded because he didn't believe the Lakers were serious about fielding a contender. Dwight Howard had his last year in Orlando. If you're serious about being a transcendent player in this league, you get one tantrum, and then you just have to make it work. The Lakers held up their end of the deal by fielding a $99.2 million payroll with four future Hall of Famers. The argument that he needs to leave in order to play for a contender doesn't hold water.
3. It's still L.A., and the sun still comes up here 365 days a year. Nowhere are there more opportunities off the court for a charismatic superstar like Howard than Los Angeles. As bad as this year has gone, next season can be a fresh start. The Lakers aren't throwing in the towel yet, but if they don't salvage it eventually, virtually all their key pieces are still under contract for next season if Howard re-signs.
A lot has gone wrong
Do I think Dwight Howard ultimately stays in L.A.? Yes. It makes the most financial sense for him on and off the court to stay right where he is. Am as convinced he'll stay in L.A. after this season as I was when he was traded to the Lakers back in August? No. Not even close.
There was a reason Howard wanted out of Orlando. He wasn't in love with the coach, wasn't in love with the direction of the franchise and only needed to take a quick look around the locker room to see things weren't going to get much better if he stayed.
I could totally see Howard taking a look at Mike D'Antoni, Jim Buss and the aging players in the Lakers' locker room toward the end of this season and saying, "Thanks, but no thanks."
Howard knows Kobe Bryant probably isn't retiring as quickly as he has been hinting in the media. He knows there's a good chance that Bryant, who is having one of the best statistical seasons of his career, could easily be around for three more seasons. Does Howard have the patience to wait that long to become the face of the Lakers and their new franchise player?
Los Angeles is a perfect fit for Howard. He loves Hollywood and everything that it offers. And when you look at the Lakers and their storied history of centers, they should be a perfect for Howard, too. But they're not, well, at least not now anyway. Will Howard bank on that changing by committing to the Lakers for the long term after this season? Maybe, but it's certainly nowhere near a slam dunk anymore.