Dwight Howard will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, meaning that he can sign with any team he likes with no mechanism for the L.A. Lakers to stop him. However, the Lakers can offer a larger, longer contract than any other team. Will Howard quickly sign a maximum value deal with the Lakers or flirt with other teams?
ESPN LA's Dave McMenamin reports that Howard intends to meet with other teams before committing to the Lakers. Cue up the Dwightmare II:
According to several sources familiar with Howard's thinking, Howard will likely explore free agency before reaching his final decision. In today's media landscape, that means there will be a circus in July while Howard hears pitches from the likes of the Dallas Mavericks and Cleveland Cavaliers.
Well yes, of course there will be a circus. There was a circus for Nicolas Batum's free agency! We're hungry for opportunities to wildly speculate and read tea leaves in today's media landscape.
Even if it is merely Howard doing his due diligence before making a major life decision, the frenzy it is sure to create will give Howard a taste of the backlash he could face if he ultimately decides to uproot from L.A. just one year removed from the "Dwightmare" that surrounded his exit from Orlando.
This, however, just isn't true. The implied comparison is between Dwightmare II and The Decision. But this is totally different. The aggrieved team would be the Lakers, a team reviled across the land by the few who aren't Lakers fans. Dwight has no connection to L.A. or the Lakers beyond this past season, and frankly owes nothing to the franchise. This isn't a situation like LeBron James in Cleveland, perceived as his hometown (even if it wasn't), where we was given everything he asked for over seven years. Dwight's been in L.A., practically a foreign town to him, for a year. He played well enough in the back half of the season to help carry the squad to the playoffs. He decided the future of the team wasn't to his liking, so he may opt to play somewhere else. The narrative is far, far different.
Frankly, Dwight is already deeply unpopular, and I think leaving the Lakers at the altar would make him much more popular in many circles. He'd have to take less money to do it. You know how the internet has basically laughed at the Lakers all season for losing to teams like the Kings and Suns? Imagine the reaction when and if they lose Dwight Howard to the Mavericks. We'll be too busy chortling out snark to wag our fingers. Lakers fans would no doubt by upset, and will reserve special hatred for Dwight. But their case of disloyalty will be weaker than that of Dan Gilbert, and you see how seriously we all took him back in 2010.
I'm not sure there's one other thing Howard could do to make himself more popular than leave the Lakers for a mid-rung or worse team, though drawing out the process beyond the first week of July will annoy those in the media. So, uh, hey Dwight! The Kings, howboutit?