Sources: Howard’s Lakers wish won’t deter Houston

ORLANDO – Dwight Howard is now likely to wind up with the Los Angeles Lakers.

When and how is what remains to be seen, but if it happens, look for it to be via Houston, which remains the favorite to facilitate his long-awaited exit from Orlando.

Yep, the end of the Dwightmare still runs through the Rockets renting him as an asset.

Howard communicated to Real GM’s Jarrod Rudolph  that he’s finally willing to re-sign long-term if acquired by the Lakers,  while ESPN’s Ric Bucher said Howard’s agent, Dan Fegan, warns an extension won’t be signed with anyone in-season, since that affects how much he can earn in the new CBA.

While you can say the Lakers story is out there as an obstacle for Houston GM Daryl Morey’s rental options, it actually increases his options.

NBA business delays have pushed back the timetable of seriously moving forward with discussions, but Houston has accounted for acquring free agency targets Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik while maintaining enough flexibility to put the “best deal” in front of Orlando.

In fact, with a story out there giving the Lakers assurances Howard would stay, the likelihood the Houston can land Bynum further strengthens its stance that getting involved with the Magic is in its best interest.

How the deal plays out, especially with Howard putting his cards on the table, now hinges on Bynum.

Sources that have been right all along on this — check my Twitter timeline starting Sunday, July 8 — believe the Rockets will be able to finalize facilitation of the Orlando Magic’s coveted rebuilding strategy shortly after Asik’s situation is settled.

Asik was promised a three-year, $25 million offer sheet that Morey will make good on, which would affect just how many of the contracts new Magic GM Rob Hennigan wants to move can be absorbed. Because of delays with Lin, the Bulls will get the offer on Friday and are expected to wait the full three days, through the weekend. If Chicago allows Asik to walk, sources say a deal can be re-worked enough to appease Orlando enough to end the saga.

The Rockets will then finally have a clear indication of what it can do for Orlando to acquire Howard, or if Bynum cooperates, will net them the current Lakers center now instead of in-season.

Like Howard, Bynum stands to make more by letting it play out, but the Rockets could gamble in trading for him at the deadline, knowing it’s one of his preferred destinations.

With Kevin Martin’s $12 million expiring contract as his main ammunition, Morey liquidated Luis Scola and Kyle Lowry in order to create cap space. After failing to turn a Martin/Scola package into Pau Gasol due to Commissioner David Stern’s “basketball reasons,” the Rockets plan has always been to land a marquee name to not only restore Houston to contender status.

Linsanity is a great draw, but alone, or with Asik and a bunch of young talent, doesn’t make you a contender. Howard does. Bynum does. Bynum has expressed an interest in signing long-term in Houston, similar to what Howard just broadcast about a future with the Lakers.

However, Bynum holds the cards here since he’s equally in a position of power entering the final year of his current contract, and he wants no part of Orlando. The Orlando Sentinel’s Josh Robbins reports the Magic have reservations about Bynum’s knees, too, so don’t expect the 2012 Western Conference All-Star starter in Central Florida regardless of who is involved in facilitating a deal.

Because the 24-year-old Bynum commented that there’s “a bank in every city” in his All-Star media session in Orlando, there’s a misguided notion that he simply wants out of L.A. With Steve Nash now on board and more money to be made if he plays out the final year of his contract, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Still, Cleveland, who Bynum has also said could be a long-term fit due to his relationship with Kyrie Irving, has also surfaced in talks of a three-way deal, which sources have termed “exploratory.”

The Cavs have assets such as multiple picks, a few expiring contracts (Luke Walton the largest at $6 million) and young players like Tristan Thompson and Tyler Zeller (can be traded Aug. 5, 30 days after signing his rookie deal) that they may or may not be willing to move.

In a Houston deal, the Magic would be able to choose from a collection of prospects including local product Chandler Parsons, Patrick Patterson, Marcus Morris and 2012 draft picks Jeremy Lamb, Royce White and Terrence Jones to accompany him in the deal. 2011 first-rounder Donatas Motiejunas also had a strong Summer League effort after signing his rookie contract and can be moved after Aug. 5.  It should be noted that all three ’12 draftees had strong moments in Las Vegas, where the Rockets went 4-1.

Future draft picks could also move, with the lottery-guaranteed selection the Rockets are getting from Toronto in the Lowry deal being especially coveted.

The Magic are interested in clearing Jason Richardson, Glen Davis, Chris Duhon, Quentin Richardson’s and Hedo Turkoglu’s – contracts, likely in that order despite the fact Turkoglu is due the largest salary, 11.82 this season and a $12 million player option that will be taken in ’13-’14. The thought is his expiring deal could be an asset at that point.

Orlando won’t get everything it covets, but prefers starting from scratch as opposed to being saddled with a player it doesn’t want to commit to. Brook Lopez was that piece in the ill-fated Brooklyn deal, and despite having accomplished  far more in his young career, Bynum is unattractive to the Magic due to health concerns and the fact that he’s given no indication he’d guarantee sticking around.

Hennigan is seeking a combination of cap relief, picks and young players, which Houston is best-equipped to help facilitate. The Lakers don’t have many assets available, but would likely be forced to squander wing Devin Ebanks, who has agreed to a new contract with the team but has yet to sign it.

The Rockets would love nothing more than to rent Howard and have him warm up to H-town, where he’s got an existing friendly relationship with Hakeem Olajuwon and can learn a ton from head coach Kevin McHale. That would take some convincing, of course, but with an eject button in place via Bynum, this isn’t as large a gamble as most would think.

Morey has been looking for an elite center since Yao Ming was forced to retire, and regardless of all the foolishness in Howard’s Brooklyn-or-bust campaign or the question marks regarding Bynum’s attitude, would be getting the game’s best.

Houston facilitating Howard’s exit has been the most likely scenario since Sunday, July 8, when sources informed PBN that Howard wouldn’t end up with the Nets in spite of all the reports that a deal was imminent. On Monday, July 9, I reported via Twitter that the Rockets were “ready to throw more kindle into fire for Magic, further exhausting process for Magic, who obviously covet additional options.”

Sources say the Magic simply were never blown away by the tireless leg work the Nets put into making a deal work, balking at the prospect of bringing in Lopez as an anchor for the franchise. Lopez eventually re-signed with the Nets for four years, $61 million.

Howard was reportedly telling his circle that the Magic would get a deal done for him to get him to Brooklyn after a face-to-face meeting with Magic management where he again expressed his interest to help open the Barclays Center. Whatever assurances were given are unknown, but Hennigan proved consistent that nothing has come before doing “what’s best for the organization.”

Undoubtedly, the Magic heard the backlash from fans who watched all the reports whizzing through the air waves and social media which railed against the prospect of granting Howard’s wishes for a marginal package. Purely speculation, but that probably didn’t help Brooklyn’s cause.

Hennigan’s vision all along, outside of landing a comparable talent like Bynum, was to regain cap flexibility and add draft picks with new salary cap regulations coming into play in ’13-’14. Houston seems poised to help him get started on the right foot, now armed with more incentive to make a move that will at the very least, net them an All-Star center in Bynum.

 

Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA