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Like it or Not, Dwight Howard is Preparing to Leave the Lakers

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COMMENTARY | Regardless of how Los Angeles Lakers fans, haters and everyone in between feel about it, Dwight Howard is effectively making plans to leave Los Angeles this offseason.

Though there's been no official decision, or even a concrete indication of where he will choose to go, it's apparent that there's little chance Howard will re-sign with the team that was overcome with promise after acquiring him a year ago.

It's the reality of the circumstances the Lakers adopted when they agreed to take on the mercurial center for one guaranteed season after trading away Andrew Bynum and a first-round draft pick among some smaller pieces in a four-team blockbuster trade. Now, it appears that despite general manager Mitch Kupchak's optimism to the contrary, Howard effectively has his bags packed and will bolt for greener pastures.

The 27-year-old arranged a whirlwind tour set to begin the week of July 1; he'll visit with representatives from the Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors as soon as free agency begins at 9:01 p.m. PT Sunday night. Of the many teams that will vie for his services come free agency, Houston has the most attractive package with cap room to offer him a max deal, a talented young nucleus as well as an offense under head coach Kevin McHale, a former post player, who could adjust his scheme to feature Howard.

If that weren't enough, Rockets legend Hakeem Olajuwon is going to help the team recruit him -- it's an all-out assault

While the new CBA tends to favor the incumbent, a tumultuous season marred with an earlier-than-expected exit from the playoffs and an apparent non-fit into the new system brought on by head coach Mike D'Antoni hurt the Lakers' case to keep the three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year.

There's a growing sentiment among Lakers fans daring Howard to walk away from $30 million and a chance to be the next great center in Laker-land. But the organization itself doesn't make decisions based on what the fans want, which is precisely why they're using their own version of a full-court press to convince Howard to stay. Case in point were the several large banners strewn throughout Los Angeles with the words, "Stay," accompanied with the Twitter hash tag, "StayD12," last week.

At this point, it's seemingly a matter of which team other than the Lakers Howard will sign with, and despite the fans' clamoring that they don't need him to be competitive, it puts a dark forecast on the prospects of success in 2013-14.

Howard is highly-coveted for a reason. NBA teams don't go all-out in recruitment for a player they don't think is a sure-thing. He may be immature at times, but his game speaks for itself.

Playing hurt in 2012-13, he averaged 17.1 points and a league-leading 12.4 rebounds per game. Kobe Bryant spoke the truth when he gave his take on Dwight on "The Mason & Ireland Show" on ESPN LA 710 Radio on Wednesday, June 19.

"It's not like you have guys like Dwight Howard just walking around every day," Bryant said during the lengthy interview. "Those guys are hard to find. They don't grow on trees."

Those were simple words, but they set the record straight on why Howard is worth pursuing. Fans are quick to recite the "We don't need him!" mantra, but the Lakers do need him. The implications of him leaving are major, because it's bad blemish on the otherwise clean image of the Lakers' franchise.

How does a star player walk away from the Los Angeles Lakers when they have more to offer financially than anyone else? It's baffling considering those same stars have traditionally stood in line to play for the NBA's gold standard. It's a privilege to don the purple-and-gold, and players have wanted to play in Los Angeles and sport the sacred uniform almost as long as the Lakers have been in existence.

Howard spurning L.A. is at the very least a bad look. At worst, it will convince other stars in the future, potentially as early as in 2014, that the Lakers aren't worth making any concessions for.

Again, some perspective: The Lakers may not win this offseason's bidding war for the top free agent when they have a distinct financial advantage. What makes anyone feel like things will get better when the playing field is level?

The best news for Lakers fans, however, is that there's a proud history and track record of getting through tough times (not that there have been many to speak of). They've always had the ability to bounce back, no matter the circumstances.

From the looks of things, that's all about to be put to the test in a big way.

For more on the Lakers and the NBA, catch up with the author on Twitter @MikeJonesTweets

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.

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