Los Angeles Lakers superstar center Dwight Howard is set to hit the open market when free agency begins on July 1. Despite the star-studded roster in LA with his prospective return, it is very possible the three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year will find a new NBA destination this offseason.
The rumor mill is buzzing about where he will land, and interest will only grow as the beginning of next month gets closer and the NBA Finals wind down.
Let's take a look at some of the possible landing spots for Howard and how he would factor into the equation in each situation.
Los Angeles Lakers
ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Ramona Shelbourne recently reported that the Lakers have discussed Howard's prospective return with his representatives over the past few weeks and are confident the big man isn't going anywhere.
It's a bit of a tricky situation for LA, though, because the luxury tax will hit them particularly hard if Howard returns to the fold.
Here's the dilemma: Losing a player of Howard's caliber for nothing in return would hurt the team but save a ton of money. However, keeping him or even executing a sign-and-trade would have the Lakers paying an exorbitant amount in luxury taxes.
In fact, Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times reports that between Howard, the other pieces of the Lakers' nucleus and free agent Metta World Peace, the players' salaries will be about $100 million and thus cost $80 million in luxury taxes.
Also take into consideration that Kobe Bryant is coming off of a torn left Achilles and is entering the last year of his contract, and Steve Nash is also approaching the end of his career.
According to Arash Markazi of ESPN Los Angeles, Bryant contacted Howard a couple of weeks ago and is sure Howard will visit other teams. He also explained why he wants Howard back.
It could be another disappointing season in LA, and if Howard inked a long-term deal with the Lakers, he would be the centerpiece of what would likely be a rebuilding project for a year or two.
Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News reported on Wednesday that the Mavericks are almost certainly going to trade their No. 13 overall pick in the upcoming draft in an effort to land Howard.
In fact, one of Sefko's sources said there is a zero percent chance of the 13th pick being on the Mavs' opening-day roster next season.
It's also possible that Dallas could use the pick on a European player who wouldn't count against the salary cap or select one of the top five or six players on its board if the player somehow falls that far. In that instance, the Mavs would still trade it, according to Sefko.
So, there's no question Dallas is all-in for the Dwight Howard sweepstakes with this type of strategy, which would involve keeping Shawn Marion, Vince Carter and Dirk Nowitzki to form the core for next season.
As Sefko points out, the Mavs also plan on making a strong push to keep athletic, young power forward Brandan Wright.
From there, only a mid-level exception contract and veteran minimums could be utilized to fill the rest of the roster.
Owner Mark Cuban has said Nowitzki will take a pay cut when he hits the open market next summer as a free agent, but the Mavs still have to sign back Marion this summer. Plus, Carter will be unrestricted next summer too.
It's a dicey proposition, but Howard would give the Mavericks much-needed help on defense, where they ranked 27th in points per game allowed this past season. Howard would be in the middle of a very experienced group of veterans but would have to be convinced of the team's direction thereafter.
The aforementioned report by Stein and Shelbourne also indicates that the Lakers are mindful of the Rockets' prospects of landing Howard.
Assuming he gets Thomas Robinson's contract off the books, GM Daryl Morey has plenty of cap space to work with and enough assets to make a sign-and-trade pitch, per the report.
While the Lakers can't acquire a sign-and-trade player as a luxury-tax team, they can sign Howard and ship him off to another squad. The sources in the report state that the Rockets want to give LA Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin for Howard in such a scenario.
Given the emergence of point guard Patrick Beverley in the playoffs for Houston, a move by Howard to Houston would put him in a starting five with Beverley, superstar James Harden at the 2 and Chandler Parsons at small forward.
That's not a bad spot to be in, and the Rockets would still have enough room to pursue an additional marquee free agent—say, Los Angeles Clippers star Chris Paul, whom Howard has discussed teaming up with.
Considering the superior youth in Houston and its superior room to bring in other star players should it pull off this deal, it seems the best spot for Howard would be with the Rockets.