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Is L.A. for Dwight?

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The Dwight Howard Saga has stretched over three arduous seasons, and continues to be one of the main talking points in the NBA because guys like him don't pop up that often. He's still a once-in-a-generation center no matter what you think about him. At 27 years old, he's hitting his prime and he'll be the most sought after free agent this summer if he decides to leave the Lakers behind.

That's a lot of hype for a guy who has been knocked out of the playoffs in the first round for the past three years. The Hawks derailed his Magic in 2011, and the Pacers did the same in 2012. This season, Duncan and the Spurs swept Dwight out of the playoffs as he tried in vain to keep the hobbled Lakers afloat.

Haters will point to Howard's lackluster play this season, and the woeful outcome of the Lakers' campaign, but that undersells how unhealthy Dwight was all year. With a summer to rehab his back some more, Dwight should be back to the dominant post presence we've come to expect.

So with that being said, who has the best shot of signing Dwight Howard? Let's see what the bookies have to say.

DALLAS MAVERICKS (+350)
Mark Cuban has never been shy about how much he wants to sign Dwight Howard and holy hell do the Mavericks need him. On top of that, Cuban knows how badly he screwed up last year's recruiting when he had to film an episode of "Shark Tank" instead of sitting down with Deron Williams (according to Dirk). I don't think Cuban will be shy about flaunting his gazillions of dollars and pushing for Howard all summer, especially after watching his team miss the playoffs for the first time since the turn of the century.

The kicker here is Dirk Nowitzki, a surefire Hall of Fame candidate who is still old but completely healthy. The Lakers will be hamstrung by Kobe's salary and injury for the next two or three seasons (depending on how it's handled) and Cuban could very well use that as a selling point to convince Howard to migrate to Dallas. Would he rather play with a healthy Dirk or in the shadow of an absent Kobe?

Even if Dallas signs Howard, they'll still have a lot of wiggle room in the salary cap. They have just $48.5M committed to next season, and nearly $7M of that is owed to Darren Collison and Rodrigue Beaubois who have qualifying offers left on their rookie deals. It means long term stability, Cuban won't hesitate to pay the luxury tax. He loves the Mavericks too much to screw up his franchise like he did last summer.

I think that there's hope for Dallas which makes this my favorite prop bet for Dwight Howard's potential destinations. I am half sold on the idea that Howard wants the chance to be a Lakers star, as I am on the belief that this season was such hell for Howard that he'll want nothing to do with Los Angeles.

If he elects for a clean slate, Dallas is the perfect destination.

HOUSTON ROCKETS (+250)
I think there's a better chance of Pau Gasol ending up in Houston than Dwight Howard, but it's no secret that general manager Darryl Morey has been after a marquee star. James Harden needs help, and there's a lot of promising pieces in Houston.

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The problem here is that those pieces are costing Houston a fortune. Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik are on the cheap in 2013-14, but they balloon up to $15M players in 2014-15. Houston will have to get creative with their salary cap because they simply can't afford to carry four guys with huge deals even if it's just for one year. The luxury tax would murder them.

For that reason alone, I don't believe Houston is in the Dwight Howard sweepstakes.

BROOKLYN NETS (+1500)
Honestly, I have no idea where this suggestion came from. The Nets have no cash to offer Howard and are already the second highest payroll in the league. This prop is based on where Howard plays his first regular season game, so the idea of a sign-and-trade exists, but would have to involve Deron Williams and Brook Lopez and I don't think the Lakers bite on that package unless Dwight is vehement about heading to Brooklyn.

ATLANTA HAWKS (+1000)
This is the interesting play, because of two main reasons. The first is that he's from Atlanta and attended high school there. The second is that Josh Smith and him are good buddies (the best of friends!). Atlanta is in absolute need of a makeover and Howard-Horford-Smith alongside each other makes this team an instant contender in an already packed Eastern Conference.

Still there's something about this that feels weird. I can't really see Howard giving up Los Angeles to cross the country to go home, but I also don't truly understand Howard's intentions. If he really wants the freshest start possible, why wouldn't he come home? I'm topsy turvy on this prop bet, but at 10-to-1 it's worth throwing a flier at.

FIELD (+350)
Chicago still hans't used their amnesty bailout and if Howard even flirted with the idea of heading to the Windy City, they'd fire it so quickly in Carlos Boozer's face that he'd get a nose bleed.

Boston seems like a nice destination, but the Celtics already have $73 million committed to next season. They'd have to do the unthinkable and amnesty Kevin Garnett, or rework his contract and cut Jeff Green loose. Either way the situation in Boston is way too complicated to make it work, but if there's anyone that can make it happen it's Ainge. (I'm trying to mean that figuratively, but since he's the GM, I guess I also mean it literally).

Speaking of amnesties, how about Amar'e Stoudemire's remaining $45 million contract over the next two years? Get rid of that and Howard could easily sign in New York to play alongside Carmelo while Tyson Chandler plays a reserve role as his body wears down. That's optimistic thinking, but New York is the only other place where Dwight could make-up the money he'd lose by hitting free agency in extra curricular marketing deals.

I would take the field if you think any of the above scenarios will work out.

The only problem is the...

LOS ANGELES LAKERS (-300)
Let's just break this down in to five easy-to-follow points:

1) Kobe's Absence Makes Dwight The Main Attraction
I generally give a player the benefit of the doubt, but with Dwight it's clear that he likes being the center of attention. He can handle the media scrutiny, and has a chance to make the Lakers his team as Kobe's career is thrown in a tailspin due to his Achilles injury. Ball players dream of making the marquee franchises their own, and Dwight has this team in the palm of his hand.

2) The Lakers Can Give Him The Most Money
Nobody in the league can match the 5-year, $118 million offer the Lakers can put on the table. Obviously this team is a mess, but Howard's mere presence is going to make them a more attractive landing destination for other free agents.

3) He Can Make More Money In Los Angeles
Major markets have their appeal to major stars, and anytime Howard is thinking of bolting for another town (like Atlanta or Houston) his agent will calmly remind him of all the extra money he can make by living near Hollywood.

4) He's Already Talking Like He's Staying
A direct quote from Howard after he was ejected in Game 4 against the Spurs:

"We'll get an opportunity to get some rest for guys who are injured or coming off of injuries, get a chance to rehab and think about what we can all do to better ourselves."

Does that sound like a guy who's thinking of leaving? Remember his word choice when he was about to leave Orlando? He never used the collective "we" and always seemed to be three-quarters of the way out the door. It sounds like I'm banking a lot on a singular quote out of context, but when you're a gambler you scrounge for any possible details you can.

5) Why Wouldn't You Want To Live In L.A. Given The Option?
Speaks for itself right?

The Lakers have never been shy about spending to get what they need, so expect them to finagle the contracts of Nash, Gasol and World Peace to surround Howard with more suitable, long term talents. The state of the current roster won't frighten Howard because he already made it to the Finals surrounded by guys like Jameer Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu.

The elephant in the room? Howard has also called this season a "nightmare" and he's a sensitive guy. He might want to wash his hands of the Lakers, get the stink off of him and start fresh (for the third time) in a new destination. When was the last time we saw a major NBA star play for three different teams in his prime? It's unthinkable right?

All that being said, it's hard to imagine Dwight leaving the bright lights of Los Angeles where he can play for one of the league's top franchises. Even at -300, this is the best bet on the board. I'd bank on it for the same reason Howard will stay in the purple and gold: it's free money on the table.

  
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