As the Dwight Howard saga rages on, one thing has gone from pretty much obvious to abundantly so: Howard wants to go to Brooklyn, and only Brooklyn.
So with that in mind, are the Lakers in better shape now to bring him to Los Angeles?
As ESPN.com's John Hollinger notes (Insider required), thanks to months' worth of wishy-washiness and poor execution culminating in his decision last spring not to enter free agency this summer, Howard's master plan appears to be crumbling around him. And that was before this afternoon's bombshell: The Nets have a deal in place to acquire Joe Johnson from Atlanta. Setting aside for a moment the wisdom of the trade from Brooklyn's perspective -- while Johnson is a very good player, he's south of elite, north of 30 years old, and due an astonishing $90 mil over the next four years -- his addition combined with the re-signing of Deron Williams (they hope) and a re-signed Gerald Wallace would reportedly shut the door on Howard in Brooklyn. As for a trade with the Nets, if the Magic wanted some sort of package built around Brook Lopez and MarShon Brooks, it would have happened by now.
As one source told ESPN.com, "Dwight blew it in March."
Howard made it clear the Nets were the only team with whom he'd sign an extension in a trade, a threat designed to keep other teams from making a deal with Orlando. Now his one-and-only destination appears to have denied him an entry visa. For the Lakers, that completely changes the calculus surrounding a potential Howard-for-Andrew Bynum swap. Before, the risk of sacrificing Bynum only to see Howard bolt after one season to the place he said all along he wanted to go was a lot to stomach. Without Brooklyn in play, it's a different ballgame. Suddenly, the idea of making a career with the Lakers becomes an easier sell, particularly since if they did swing a trade, L.A. would have the ability to give Howard far more money than anyone else.
The Lakers would have a much easier time calling Howard's bluff at the end of next year. A max deal combined with some winning, excellent weather, and no better option makes for a decent Plan B.
From Orlando's perspective, Bynum still constitutes the single best player they'd get in return for Howard, and while (just as the Lakers would with Howard) the Magic would have to sign him to an extension, I don't see it as a problem. Remember, it was in reference to Orlando-centric trade rumors Bynum made his famous "bank in every city" quote. While I've never sensed he's hell-bent on leaving the Lakers, Bynum has also always given the impression he'd get over a trade in about 17 seconds.
There would still be plenty of potential peril. The Lakers won't be the only organization recognizing a new opportunity. Other teams, Dallas for example if they lose out on D-Will or (Howard's hometown) Atlanta now that Johnson and Marvin Williams have been cleared away, could jimmy around their rosters to make enough space to sign Howard outright after next season. Some wonder if so much sacrifice for a guy who appeared not to want to come to Los Angeles, and reportedly wasn't high on playing second fiddle to Kobe Bryant, is worth it. There's a good chance he could leave.
Character wise, Howard has turned many off by the way he's morphed his exit from Orlando into a soap opera. Remember, too, he's coming off major back surgery.
On the other hand, assuming he's healthy, Howard is a dominant force in ways Bynum isn't yet. As a rule, in the NBA when you have a chance to pick up a top-five player, you do it and ask questions later. The other stuff can and likely will be forgiven, at least locally, if Howard helps push the Lakers back to the Finals. Talent is the ultimate olive branch.
Now that it appears he might have to settle for his less-favored options, it makes much more sense for the Lakers to push harder for a deal with Orlando, even if Howard won't sign an extension right away. The Lakers can more successfully call his bluff.
"Where are you going to go, Dwight?"
Would he have a good answer?