For the second straight season, far more questions than answers exist surrounding the Lakers' immediate future. Kobe Bryant's devastating injury, what to do with Pau Gasol and how to add youth and athleticism amid salary cap constraints are all concerns.
But the biggest of them all? Dwight Howard's pending free agency and subsequent decision -- the de facto second "Dwightmare" as it were.
Here's a primer on the scenario to catch up:
- ·Howard is a free agent as of July 1. At that point, he is free to sign with any team, including re-upping with the Lakers.
- ·The Lakers retain his Larry Bird rights, which allow them to offer one additional year and over $30 million more over the life of the contract. The most he could receive with another team would be $87.6 million over four years.
- ·Howard has his eyes set on potentially heading to Houston, where he may be more comfortable closer to his home town of Atlanta as well as reap the benefits of an income tax situation that could theoretically save him millions and help offset some of the dip in salary.
- Recent reports suggest that Howard was unhappy with his relationship with head coach Mike D'Antoni and the way he was treated last season, often times overlooked when the coach consulted the team's veterans on important matters.
The Lakers' and Howard's struggles last season are well-documented, and could play a role in the immediate future of the franchise. They banked heavily on prestige being a major factor along with the lure that he could be the next great player and center among an elite group of Hall-of-Famers. The Lakers are still the Lakers. They have history, the envy of other teams, world-class facilities and career opportunities beyond basketball right in their backyard.
Now, a very real, intriguing and previously unfathomable possibility exists. What if he says no to all of it?
That could happen, and if it does, it would be an indictment on the dismal state of the team. This is a proud franchise that has been through its share of struggles in years past, but has always managed to bounce back. Now, with so many questions looming, the lack of direction is troubling for the purple-and-gold faithful and the players.
Howard is polarizing in L.A. for understandable reasons. He set a precedent with the Orlando Magic that he's indecisive, insensitive and selfish. Though it was likely immaturity that fueled his actions in Central Florida more than any of those factors, he has plenty of work to do to have fans warm up to him in Southern California after holding the Magic hostage for several months while he waffled over his next career move and struggling to regain his dominant form last year as he struggled with injury.
Only time will tell whether or not he's grown up and healed up. The 2012-13 season wasn't a large enough sample size to know for sure.
The Lakers, though, have placed their short-term future and reputation as the place players want to play squarely on the beat-up shoulders of an unpredictable player. That's a lot of pride and confidence. But should they be concerned he'll make them look foolish?
The mercurial big man is reportedly intrigued by the possibility of playing in the Lone Star State. In addition to the tax benefits, playing with a superstar like James Harden in the prime of both his own and the Bearded One's career has to be attractive in this era of superstars joining forces.
If he were to turn down the additional salary the Lakers could offer him, he could make it up later in his career with subsequent contracts, but there are no guarantees when it comes to health, longevity and performance.
In essence, it's still a whole bunch of money to walk away from.
That, factored in with the aura of the Lakers, would make Howard leaving a monumental failure - the ultimate burn.
Can you imagine? Can anyone?
Incredibly, the sports world may not have to only envision it, because Howard taking off for what may appear to be a better situation is a shockingly real possibility. What would that kind of move do for the team's ability to attract more star players down the line in the new landscape of NBA transactions?
It would severely cripple the team's tried-and-true strategy of bringing in talent via free agency. If the Lakers aren't the Lakers anymore, then team brass has to take a new approach to everything.
Even that's more than the requisite drama for Hollywood's team.Michael C. Jones covers the Los Angeles Lakers and the NBA as a Southern California-based sports journalist and editor. He contributes to SB Nation in addition to Yahoo! Sports and is the Managing Editor and Founder of Sports Out West.
Catch up with him on Twitter @MikeJonesTweets
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