As tough as it is to stay abreast of any juicy rumor in this day of the 24-hour news cycle, Howard's case has proven even more difficult to read. Whenever this many people have sources close to the situation saying this many drastically different things, a cynical view is typically the only one worth entertaining until the dotted line has been signed.
But the uncertainty here isn't just the byproduct of first news reports trumping accurate, verifiable ones. This has more to do with the less-than-forthcoming past of the two prime parties at play here.
There is no honesty bonus in the shrewd world of business, and the Lakers haven't carved out their place among the NBA's elite franchises by searching for one. If there's an advantage to be had in negotiations, L.A.'s going to attempt to exploit it at all costs.
And, really, why shouldn't it? It's not the Lakers' responsibility to carry transparent objectives or to look beyond any interest other than their own. The front office's sole focus is putting the organization in the best possible position to win today and tomorrow, and because these are the people raking in generous salaries to make those decisions, they are the only ones who need to be able to track their collective thought process.
Sure, it's not a strategy that will always endear itself to the outside world. In fact, the opposite is the case more often than not.
Sometimes that means cutting ties with an aging point guard (Derek Fisher, who helped bring the organization five championships during his 11-plus-year tenure) without consulting that player or his MVP backcourt mate (Kobe Bryant). Or reaching out to a legendary coach (Phil Jackson) when a sideline vacancy opens just five games into the regular season, then rescinding that offer before he's had the chance to make a decision.
Or even dangling a high-risk, high-reward big man (Andrew Bynum) on the trade market, emphasizing the reward side without disclosing all of the risks involved. At least that's how Philadelphia 76ers legend Julius Erving saw the four-team blockbuster trade that landed Howard in L.A. last summer.
As far as Howard's concerned, it feels like he's finally grasped the best way to discuss his NBA future by not discussing it at all. Or at least he's gotten better at letting others do the public talking for him.
He said he didn't play a role in former coach Stan Van Gundy's ousting, even after Van Gundy said unequivocally that he had.
Howard reportedly voiced serious concerns to Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak about L.A. coach Mike D'Antoni. Kupchak, in the least surprising news of the summer, denied those talks ever took place just days later.
At this point, it's probably best to assume that Howard truly has no idea where he'll play in 2013-14.
Maybe he's simply waiting to see what other opportunities are out there. Perhaps he's waiting for fellow free agent Chris Paul to make up his mind first. Heck, he might even be gripping to the false hopes that somehow the Nets emerge as a possible destination this offseason.
The Lakers, just like most of the hoops world, can't move forward with their offseason plans until Howard makes up his mind.
And for as completely devoid of news as Howard's non-decision might seem, it just might be the most newsy event we hear about Howard or the Lakers for a long time.
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