Amid all the teams about to clamor for his services, there remains one defining factor that those close to Dwight Howard say will determine who he will play for next season.
“Dwight is truly, in my opinion, going to make his decision where he has the best chance at winning an NBA title,” said a source familiar with Howard’s thought process.
That decision begins tonight at 9 p.m. when he becomes an unrestricted free agent. A minute later, the Lakers plan to call Howard to reiterate their hope that Howard resigns with the Lakers to a five-year deal worth $118 million, as opposed to a four-year deal worth $87.6 million.
“I don’t think anything dramatic is going to take place June 30 at 9:01 regarding Dwight,” Lakers general manager Kupchak said beforehand.
That’s because Howard also plans to speak with other teams, including the Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Atlanta Hawks and Golden State Warriors, said league sources familiar with the discussions. It’s also possible Howard will meet with other teams, too. Howard plans to stay in Los Angeles during the beginning of the free agency process, but it’s likely he will travel for the 4th of July holiday on Thursday, said a source close to Howard.
As it’s become more uncertain about Howard’s intentions to re-sign with the Lakers, the organization has increased their campaign efforts in hopes that he stays.
The Lakers started the process this week of unveiling seven billboards throughout Los Angeles including Staples Center, asking for Howard to remain with the team. The signs display a picture of Howard with the word, “STAY” followed by the hashtag, “StayD12. The Lakers bought a full-page ad in the Los Angeles Times Sunday sports section with the same message. And the team also posted on its Twitter feed digitally altered photos of Howard at two Los Angeles landmarks, including his No. 12 jersey draped over the Beverly Hills hotel and Howard sticking out his tongue with his right arm stretched over the Walt Disney Hall.
Meanwhile, Kupchak has also persistently praised Howard, who averaged 17.1 points and a league-leading 12.4 rebounds in the first season with the Lakers. He’s argued Howard’s lowest numbers since the 2006-07 season with the Orlando Magic mostly reflected his respective back and shoulder injuries.
Howard has appreciated the gestures, but there’s a more important variable determining whether he remains with the Lakers.
“The most important decisions for him is going to be what team he feels has the best to win championships and has the best team and the system around him,” said a source familiar with Howard’s thinking.
Howard expressed plenty of frustrations with the Lakers. It didn’t help the team lost in a first-round sweep to the San Antonio Spurs. Howard didn’t like how Mike D’Antoni’s offense featured him more in pick-and-rolls than on post-ups, and that he wasn’t consistently featured in the plays. Howard also encountered hiccups adapting to Kobe Bryant’s demanding leadership style. He took offense when D’Antoni and Bryant suggested he should play through his injuries better.
The Lakers have maintained D’Antoni will coach next season, believing a training camp, healthier roster and players more suited for his system will lead to better results. Although Kupchak described former Lakers coach Phil Jackson as “helpful” as an unofficial consultant with the Lakers, he’s not under any circumstances returning to coach the team. Nonetheless, Jackson tweeted to Howard Sunday about his hope to stay with the Lakers.
@dwighthoward “i’m going up to the country going to paint my mailbox blue.” While i’m there I expect to see you get on board tis ur place
— Phil Jackson (@PhilJackson11) June 30, 2013
Still, a source familiar with Howard’s thought process said such variables won’t determine his decision.
“He’s not going to ask the Lakers to do anything on his behalf in terms of changes or additions to try to keep him,” the source said. “He’s not going to ask any teams that. What he’s going to do is evaluate his top choices.”
Howard remains attracted to various teams for various reasons.
Houston boasts a young up-and-coming roster with James Harden and Jeremy Lin, cap space and coach Kevin McHale, who cemented himself as a top post-player with the Boston Celtics. The Mavericks and Hawks have plenty of cap space to build a roster around Howard. He’s intrigued with Golden State’s run to the 2013 Western Conference semifinals, though such a deal would require the Lakers to perform a sign-and-trade, something they’ve currently said they won’t do. Howard likes the Lakers’ championship success, willingness to spend and the marketing opportunities living in Los Angeles entails.
The Lakers have a financial advantage, while both Houston and Dallas would allow Howard to play 41 regular-season games in Texas without any state income tax. But a source familiar with Howard’s thinking said that won’t be the determining factor in his decision.
The Lakers anticipate Howard could decide as soon as July 10 when he’s able to sign his contract.
“He didn’t give himself this opportunity last year [to become a free agent] and I think he regretted it, the source said of Howard, who waived his early termination clause to stay with Orlando before ultimately getting traded last summer. “He plans to go through this by making careful evaluations. The only way he can do that is when the other teams go through their presentations.”
And as Howard mulls over his decision, the source adamantly said that any potential public relations backlash over leaving the Lakers and joining his third time in three years won’t influence his sentiments.
“Winning cures all PR,” the source said. “If where he goes and wins championships he won’t have to worry about the PR. He’s not letting the tail wag the dog. He’s not letting PR determine where he’s going to go.”
Instead, Howard remains curious about one thing.
“Dwight knows the Lakers and has a good feel for strengths and weaknesses,” the source said. “They will have opportunity to put together their plan and show him how they’re going to win a championship.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org