The 2013 NBA draft is in the record books, free agency is looming and the basketball community has returned its focus to the Los Angeles Lakers. While there is never a shortage of storylines coming out of Tinseltown, this summer revolves around center Dwight Howard.
A superstar player that the Lakers wouldn't be as crazy as you may think to spurn.
Howard is an unrestricted free agent, thus becoming the latest high-profile name to shape an offseason with his potential signing. Since he is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year and seven-time All-Star, there certainly won't be a shortage of opportunities for the 27-year-old to decide between.
In the Lakers' case, they can afford to let him walk.
Howard is one of the most productive players in the world, leading the NBA in rebounds five times and blocks another two. Even in his supposed down year with the Lakers, Howard led the league in rebounds.
According to Basketball-Reference.com, Howard was the only qualified player in the NBA to average at least 15.0 points and 12.0 rebounds per game.
With all of this being noted, D-12 being an elite player is only one piece of the Lakers' decision. While keeping him in town would be the wise move—and if they can, they really should—L.A. can afford to let him walk.
Reports say that it's what he wants.
Injuries and Off-Court Distractions
According to Chris Broussard of ESPN, Howard is unlikely to re-sign with the Lakers this offseason. Broussard reports that D-12 prefers his alternatives, which include the Atlanta Hawks, Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets.
Howard will meet with all three of those teams before he sits down with the Lakers.
This comes less than two weeks after Broussard reported that Howard and point guard Chris Paul are hoping to play together. With that being said, CP3 is widely expected to re-sign with the Los Angeles Clippers after they hired head coach Doc Rivers.
That makes Howard a complete and utter wild card.
That's exactly what D-12 has been over the past three seasons, as he's clashed with the Lakers and Orlando Magic. From spats with his head coaches to the well-documented feud between him and Kobe Bryant, the signs point toward L.A. starting fresh.
For the first time in a long time, the Lakers should follow those signs.
Howard is an elite player who deserves a max contract, but to be perfectly fair, he's battling two of the worst possible injuries a big man can sustain. Not only did he receive back surgery in early 2012, but he's experienced recurring injuries in his rotator cuff.
With issues off the court and injuries while playing on it, Howard may not be the franchise player that the Lakers are looking for.
Last time I checked a trio of Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol would be considered elite in any other uniform. Due to the fact that they play for the Los Angeles Lakers, however, that trio is viewed as a group that simply will not suffice.
Keep in mind, the Lakers won back-to-back titles with Bryant and Gasol as recently as 2010.
There are undeniable question marks, as Bryant recovers from a torn Achilles' tendon and both Gasol and Nash battled injuries of their own in 2012-13. With that being said, all three players are elite, and there's no other way to describe them.
Not unless you let the allure of the Lakers cloud your vision.
Nash experienced a down year statistically, but he battled countless injuries and saw his usage rate drop by 3.2 percent. Even still, he fell just shy of the 180 club by posting a slash line of .497/.438/.922.
Assuming the Lakers are wise enough to let Nash run the show with his ball-handling, he could continue orchestrating an elite offensive attack.
Gasol, meanwhile, tallied three triple-doubles during his final seven games of the 2012-13 season. This occurred after Mike D'Antoni attempted to make Gasol a stretch 4, which simply won't be an option if Howard departs.
As for Kobe, if anyone can recover from this type of injury, it's the greatest warrior of our generation.
Summer of 2014
The summer of 2010 will forever be heralded as the time in which the NBA was altered, as the Miami Heat created the Big Three and sparked a desire to pile up superstars. Weeks earlier, the likes of John Wall, Paul George, DeMarcus Cousins and Greg Monroe were selected in the NBA draft.
Believe it or not, 2014 has the potential to blow 2010 right out of the water.
Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker highlight the most heralded draft class since 2003, when LeBron James fronted a class of countless superstars. Regardless of where a team is picking in '14, the depth of this class is unlike anything we've seen in recent memory.
The class of free agents won't be any weaker.
Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace will all become free agents, thus opening up mountains of cap space for the Lakers. Other notable free agents include LeBron, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Tony Parker, Luol Deng, Rudy Gay, Wall and Carmelo Anthony.
Even the likes of Paul George, Dirk Nowitzki, Greg Monroe and Amar'e Stoudemire will be eligible for free agency.
The Lakers may have their fair share of detractors, but they remain the most high-profile free-agent destination in NBA history. The allure of Los Angeles plays a factor, while the history of this decorated organization is of equal importance.
In other words, an instant rebuild is a legitimate possibility.
If the Lakers fail to re-sign Howard and end up struggling even worse than the year prior, they'll become a lottery team in line to acquire one of the countless elite prospects in 2014. If they manage to reach the playoffs, cap space will be available and they will remain the top destination of elite free agents.
Howard may be the class of the center position, but with such high-profile alternatives on the horizon, an elite core in place and D-12's history of injuries and off-the-court issues, it's not too hard to believe the Lakers would allow him to walk.