Don’t close the door on the Los Angeles Lakers just yet, the hardest team in the NBA to say no to. But Dwight Howard isn’t going to make it easy. Instead of being a simple case of re-signing him to a max contract, Howard is about to test the waters, as some love to say, in free agency, being extremely interested in the developing situations in Texas for either the Houston Rockets or the Dallas Mavericks.

What does Howard want? It seems that playing for a contender means more than anything. He can make more money per year and on a longer contract if he re-signs with the Lakers, but even though taking a max contract elsewhere means potentially losing around $30 million, Howard has enough belief in himself that he’s going to be a major factor in the NBA for more than four seasons, and that being on a team that can challenge for the NBA title is more important.

Dwight Howard

But what about the Lakers? Well, if they do sign Howard and do not amnesty anyone, it’s hard seeing them making any moves in the off-season that could improve a team that barely got into the playoffs, even with Kobe Bryant playing some insane basketball before bowing down to an injury that might keep him out for some time next season as well. Pau Gasol is a question mark, but Metta World Peace and Steve Nash are even bigger ones. The future doesn’t look so bright in LA, despite the big names.

The Houston Rockets look like the most promising of the options. A team with plenty of cap space, that will allow them to sign Howard. The only meaningful players they have coming off the books are Francisco Garcia this season and Aaron Brooks & Carlos Delfino next year. They have a superstar, James Harden (although Howard’s season with Bryant suggests that it might be an issue) and some very promising role players in Omer Asik, Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin, if McHale starts using him a bit more intelligently.

The Dallas Mavericks? They missed out on the postseason for the first time in forever, but Dirk Nowitzki is willing to take a pay cut (is due $22.7 million next season) in order for the Mavs to both sign Howard and make other meaningful additions. They’re also potentially losing a bunch of veterans, including some expensive contracts, with Elton Brand, Shawn Marion, Mike James, Chris Kaman, Anthony Morrow and Brandan Wright all becoming free agents.

What is a confused center to do?

What is a confused center to do?

What’s the right place for Howard? It depends how much teams are willing to change for him, and how much he is willing to change for them. Howard wanted to see more balls directed his way while playing for the Lakers, but that was impossible with Bryant. In Houston, Harden had the feeling it was all up to him, but maybe an arrival of a bigger name might curb his game a little bit, and force Kevin McHale to take the ball out of his current top scorer’s hands.

In Dallas, the future is a little bit misty. It’s hard to say how this team may look next season, even with the pay-cut Nowitzki will be taking. Howard might want to wait and see what players Cuban keeps and brings in before making his decision. The Lakers? It’s hard to see them making anything happen, even with Howard leaving. Just Bryant’s contract is going to cost them $30.4 million next season, and that’s before Pau Gasol, Steve Nash and Metta get their share, not leaving a lot of room under the cap. For now, just by the way Howard is acting, it looks like the Lakers aren’t his top option.

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