Dwight Howard has professed elation about his new home in L.A. for most of the time since he was traded to the Lakers in August, but the shine appears to be wearing off. Howard's growing unhappiness with his role under coach Mike D'Antoni has led sources to indicate to Ramona Shelburne and Marc Stein of ESPN.com that the Lakers might consider trading the big man before the February 21st deadline. The Lakers still believe they can re-sign him, and are continuing to reject Howard offers from other teams, Shelburne and Stein report, confirming what we heard earlier from Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News. Still, they don't want to be left with nothing should Howard leave as a free agent this summer.
Howard has privately dropped hints about how uncomfortable he feels in D'Antoni's up-tempo system, and that he might leave if there isn't improvement or change. D12 is recovering from back surgery and has shown signs of his old form of late, but his numbers of 17.1 points and 12.3 rebounds per game are off significantly from his last few seasons with the Magic. The three-time defensive player of the year has had little apparent effect on the team's ability to stop opponents from scoring, as the Lakers are giving up 102.6 PPG, the fifth most in the league.
There were conflicting reports today about whether the Nets are considering a trade for Howard, who seemingly made Brooklyn his top choice during last year's back and forth with the Magic. Shelburne and Stein note that the Mavericks and Hawks appear to be teams Howard would consider if he doesn't re-sign with the Lakers. Howard is making a little more than $19.5MM this season, which, like Pau Gasol and his $19MM salary figure, would make it challenging to construct a trade that would satisfy the league's salary-matching requirements.
Still, the Lakers may have motivation to deal him away if their belief that they can re-sign him begins to dissolve. Given their current commitments, the Lakers will be well over the cap regardless of whether they bring Howard back in the summer. So, if he signs with another team, the Lakers wouldn't have any cap room to show for it; they'd simply lose Howard for nothing, aside from the savings they'd collect from not having to pay him and the luxury tax his contract would incur.
There's plenty of financial motivation for Howard to stay with the Lakers as well, since they could give him an extra year on his next contract. Of course, if the Lakers trade Howard away, his new team, and not the Lakers, would be the only one capable of giving him a deal for five years, instead of four.