Dwight Howard free agency: Why he should return to the Los Angeles Lakers

USA TODAY Sports

Things didn't go well for Howard in Los Angeles last year, but there are still plenty of perks to re-signing with the Lakers.

All the pitches are in and Dwight Howard has retreated to Colorado for the July 4 weekend to mull perhaps the biggest decision of his life. Howard met with the Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Golden State Warriors and Atlanta Hawks over the past couple of days, and now he must choose where he will be spending the next chapter of his basketball career.

The Rockets are seen by many as the frontrunner, but the other teams all put in good pitches as well. The Warriors feel good enough about their chances that they've started to aggressively shop their veterans with expiring contracts. On the eve of Howard's decision, the Lakers have reportedly even started to reconsider their stance on sign-and-trade scenarios to at least get something for Howard should he walk.

However, when it comes down to it, Howard's best course of action may be just to remain in Los Angeles. There are certainly plenty of reasons to stay in Lakerland.

The future of the Lakers

It's hard to argue that last season was anything but a disaster for the Lakers. Sure they made the playoffs after their horrific start, but the year was full of drama and ultimately ended in an ugly four-game sweep at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs.

However, the Lakers did show some signs of coming together in the second half of year before injuries took their toll. If Kobe Bryant comes back healthy and the rest of the band is brought back together, the Lakers could make some serious noise. And if Howard is serious about winning, who better to learn from than Bryant, who challenged Howard in the Lakers' meeting with the big man.

But even beyond next year, the Lakers are poised to have quite a bit of cap space in the summer of 2014 even with Howard in tow and Bryant likely returning at a cheaper rate. CBS Sports' Ken Berger envisions a possible Lakers future that also includes LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, and while that seems a bit fantastical, luring another big name to Los Angeles in 2014 certainly seems like the plan.

The contract

Because the Lakers own Howard's Bird rights, they can offer him more years and more money on his new deal than any other team. While all of his other suitors can only offer him a four-year contract, the Lakers can offer a five-year pact.

The Lakers can also offer Howard 7.5-percent raises on each year of his contract, compared to just 4.5 percent for the other teams. When it comes down to it, a contract with the Lakers would be worth about $30 million more on the surface than a contract with somebody else.

There's one caveat, and that's the state income tax. Texas has no state income tax, while California's is 13.3 percent and Georgia's is six percent. That narrows the gap in money somewhat for the two Texas teams and the Hawks, but Howard would still make more with the Lakers.

It's THE LAKERS

Would Howard really walk away from the NBA's premiere franchise? Howard has talked about how he values winning, and other than the Boston Celtics, no franchise has done it more in the history of the league. The Lakers have won 16 championships and have been home to many of the greatest players of all-time, including Bryant.

Besides all of the championships, the fact that the Lakers have finished under .500 only three times in the last 37 years illustrates just how successful the franchise is. All they do is win.

Throw in the glitz and glam of being a superstar in Los Angeles, and leaving the Lakers just seems crazy, especially for a guy who craves the attention like Howard. There are so many other opportunities to be had when being a star on the Lakers, and the pitch to Howard even included talks of a possible television show. It would be the true Hollywood experience for Howard, and when you include that on top of the chance to be a part of such storied history, the Lakers are a great fit.

More from SB Nation:

The NBA's top 90 free agents | All NBA free agency news

Dwight Howard finishes meetings, will decide soon

Tyreke Evans headed to NOLA in 3-team deal

Flannery: Danny Ainge stays in character by hiring Brad Stevens

Grading the NBA free agent deals

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