Dwight Howard's Return to L.A. Lakers Next Season Anything but Certain

Jesse DorseyFeatured ColumnistApril 7, 2013

PHOENIX, AZ - MARCH 18:  Dwight Howard #12 of the Los Angeles Lakers is introduced before the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at US Airways Center on March 18, 2013 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the Lakers 99-76. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

With the Los Angeles Lakers embroiled in an all-out brawl for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, their potentially revolutionary offseason and Dwight Howard's future with the team remain in the back of everyone's mind.

It's strange that both Los Angeles' final stretch and their offseason plans have become two separately viewed entities, as there's so much in common between the two.

Should the Lakers end up missing out on the chance to face off against one of the two juggernauts atop the West, suddenly Howard's decision becomes a lot more complicated.

While the reality of the Lakers in the eighth spot in the playoffs seems like a laugh after the preseason projections had them as the new team atop the West, missing the playoffs altogether is an utter disaster.

It could be as small as a game's difference in the overall record, but that tiny difference means everything when it comes to evaluating the success of this team.

A successful squad means there's an accomplishment for Howard and the Lakers on which to hang their hats, but a failure means questions about everyone involved, by everyone involved.

Even if the Lakers do end up making the playoffs, Howard's return to Los Angeles is anything but guaranteed, as numerous teams are lining up to take a swing at him, some of which have a brighter future than Los Angeles.

Sure, Los Angeles remains the top destination for Howard. It's familiar, he now knows exactly what to expect when the Lakers don't live up to expectations, and he's in a position to make the most money in Los Angeles.

The Lakers have a long history of success, with a general manager who knows how to pull off miracle trades and create a championship team out of mediocrity.

However, it's not the honeymoon season the Lakers had hoped for in Howard's first year in Los Angeles. With the Lakers struggling, Howard has had a hard time getting into a groove with his new teammates, as injury has run rampant throughout the locker room.

It's still possible that Los Angeles could be only renting Howard for a season in which they lose in the first round of the playoffs, or even worse.

The Dallas Mavericks, Atlanta Hawks and Houston Rockets all have an in-road to pluck Howard out of Hollywood and send the Lakers spiraling into oblivion, at least for the time being.

As far as the Mavericks are concerned, they are the team Howard talked about being at the top of his list when his free agency came up this summer, but that was before he was traded from Orlando to Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, Atlanta is a team with barely a nickel in dedicated payroll for the 2013-14 season, and with Howard at the top of their wish list, they could easily stack together a terrific team through free agency. 

The leg-up they have on the rest of the league is that Howard is from Atlanta. However, reports came out in February that Atlanta wasn't a place on Howard's wish list, at least at that time.

Then there's the Rockets.

Howard utterly detested the idea of being traded to Houston last summer, but it seems his thoughts may have changed after the re-vamp of the Rockets' roster and their current foray into the playoffs.

Those are Howard's options, as they seem evident right now. Each team is offering a different type of potential satisfaction.

In Los Angeles there is money, legacy and potential for mind-boggling fame, but he'll get the hometown love in Atlanta, fulfilled desires in Dallas and quite possibly the best team for him in Houston.

The options are obvious, but the choice is going to be difficult.