Lawrence: Houston likely landing spot for Howard

By on June 30, 2013
 Kevin Garnett (l.) will likely join Dwight Howard (r.) in a first round exit, but the future of Howard and Lakers is a lot more cloudy than Garnett and Celtics. 

JESSICA RINALDI/REUTERS

The Lakers want Dwight Howard back but the laid-back center seems willing to bail on L.A.

Handicapping the Dwight Howard sweepstakes:

In the end, Houston will wind up getting Howard, as many signs are indicating.

As much as the Lakers want to re-sign Howard, it appears he doesn’t want to deal with the demands of playing in Los Angeles. He’s expected to win titles, something Kobe Bryant has reminded him of from time to time, and Howard has shown over the years that he just isn’t wired to compete at that high level.

But the Lakers will still make their best pitch, which starts with having a $ 30 million advantage over the Rockets and every other team that will begin recruiting Howard late Sunday night. He can’t sign with anyone until July 10, but can come to a verbal agreement once recruiting starts.

The Lakers have already told Howard that he will get the torch from Bryant, whenever their all-time leading scorer decides to retire.

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“We’re closer to the end of that era than we are to the beginning of it,” Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak said this past week. “We know with Jerry West , Wilt ( Chamberlain ), Kareem ( Abdul-Jabbar ) and Magic ( Johnson ) — everything at some point and time comes to an end. We’re trying to plan for that. Don’t get me wrong, Kobe went down with a devastating injury, but I expect him back next year, I just don’t know how much more beyond next year.”

Howard has told associates that he doesn’t like Mike D’Antoni’s system, but that’s not the main reason he’s looking to leave L.A. He and Bryant have a decent relationship, but Howard isn’t nearly as consumed with winning as Bryant, which has caused some friction between the two superstars.

Houston would offer a more laid-back environment, while giving Howard the chance to play with James Harden and a decent supporting cast. That puts the Rockets at a distinct advantage over the talent-poor Mavs. Only Dirk Nowitzki’s presence makes Dallas an attractive destination, but he’s only going to play a few more seasons, having recently turned 35. Atlanta is Howard’s home, but there’s no other reason to play there.

Dwight Howard isn't as consumed by winning as five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant (above).

Charles Krupa/AP

Dwight Howard isn’t as consumed by winning as five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant (above).

Both Texas teams and the Hawks can offer a four-year deal, at the maximum $ 88 million. The Lakers can top that with a five-year, $ 118 million offer and are planning on doing that. But Texas doesn’t have a state income tax, so that would help Howard offset some of the $ 30 million in potential lost wages.

The bottom line for Howard: By moving to Houston, he will not face the intense pressure to win or the constant media scrutiny he experienced in Los Angeles this past season. Like a lot of NBA GMs and coaches, we’re betting that he’ll decide to be a Rocket.

RELATED: LAWRENCE: NETS DO IT RIGHT WITHOUT DWIGHT

RULES COMMITTEE SHUFFLE

The all-powerful NBA competition committee has a couple of new members. New Toronto president Masai Ujiri and Spurs GM R.C. Buford have been picked to sit on the nine-man board, which has the authority to consider and recommend rules changes. Buford replaces Utah’s Kevin O’Connor , while Ujiri takes over the spot held by former Raptors president Bryan Colangelo , who last week was stripped of his basketball decision-making powers and stepped down after seven seasons to be a team consultant. New Clippers VP and coach Doc Rivers gets to stay on the committee, despite leaving the Celtics. The committee will also name a replacement for former Memphis coach Lionel Hollins . Former Nets GM Kiki Vandeweghe , recently hired by the league to work in several departments, will be an adviser. … From Hakeem Olajuwon to Nemanja Nedovic : Moments after making his final pick as commissioner — announcing that Suns had taken Nedovic with the 30th selection — David Stern was joined on stage in Barclays Center by Olajuwon, the first pick in Stern’s first draft as commissioner in 1984. Olajuwon appeared in a tuxedo, similar to the one he wore when he was the No. 1 pick of the Rockets. “I wanted to be here for your final pick,” Olajuwon said. “Thank you for an amazing 30 years. All you have done for the league and the players, thank you.” Stern made his picks while hearing more boos than ever. At one point, during a lull, he deadpanned: “Stop it, you’re ruining all the fun.” … Josh Smith , one of the top free agents after Howard and Chris Paul , is a top candidate to wind up in Boston via a sign-and-trade. The Celtics nearly got him in the past in trades with the Hawks and are looking to pair him with his former AAU teammate, Rajon Rondo . … The Jazz is expected to choose keeping Paul Millsap over fellow free-agent Al Jefferson . That’s a mistake because Jefferson can do more, but Millsap will come cheaper. … Once Atlanta is rebuffed by Howard, watch the Hawks make a run at Jefferson, especially once Smith is out the door. … The Bucks can pay J.R. Smith $ 25 million over three years, plus promise the Knicks’ Sixth Man Award winner a starting job as they go shopping for a replacement for Monta Ellis , who is all but assured of opting out of his final season at $ 11 million. Those two factors will top the Knicks in both departments. The Knicks are intent to keep Smith in his current bench role and their best offer on a three-year deal is likely around $ 18 million. … The Mavs are another team that figures to have wads of money available if they strike out on Howard. Ellis could then score a major deal from the Dallas. Dallas is in dire need of a point guard and although Ellis is more of a combo playmaker-shooting guard, he would fill the bill.

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SLAM DUNKS

– Portland went for the best player available when drafting Lehigh guard C.J. McCollum with the 10th pick overall. The Blazers already have Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard at point guard, but need a backup. McCollum is perfect for that role. … As long as Nerlens Noel makes it back from his torn ACL, new Sixers GM Sam Hinkie had a tremendous opening draft. Noel and Michael Carter-Williams are good building blocks and the Sixers might have two top picks in next year’s draft, which is already being hyped as possibly one of the best in recent years. … If there’s a team that will overpay free-agent C Tiago Splitter, it’s Atlanta. GM Danny Ferry and new head coach Mike Budenholzer worked with Splitter when they were with the Spurs.

– The Jazz had better be right on Trey Burke. Utah coughed up two No. 1 picks to the Timberwolves — UCLA wing man Shabazz Muhammad and Louisville C Gorgui Dieng — for Burke, the first point guard selected in the draft. He’s small (6-1¼) and is not super-quick. That’s fine for college but never translates well to the NBA. … Ever since Rivers defected to the Clippers, you haven’t heard anything from Chris Paul about leaving, have you? … Michael Jordan wouldn’t have liked playing with a soft big man like Cody Zeller, who struggled at Indiana against athletic rivals. So now he’s OK with a guy like Zeller playing for his Bobcats?


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