Originally posted on Fox Sports Southwest  |  Last updated 4/29/13
DALLAS -- Dwight Howard's season with the Los Angeles Lakers could not have gone better for the covetous Dallas Mavericks, that is. "A nightmare," Howard said, describing Sunday's Game 4 loss to the Spurs, wrapping up a four-game first-round sweep of the glitzy Lakers. "A bad dream. I couldn't wake up out of it. It seemed like nothing could go right from the start." Yes, Howard was describing just that one game (a game in which he earned a third-quarter ejection in order to make his escape). But maybe he was also describing this entire Lakers season, one he can also make his escape from via July 1 free agency. The Dwight-Lakers season is over. But will the free-agent-to-be's nightmare continue? Or is the Dwight-Lakers era also over? "The longer things go, the more opportunities present themselves," Mavs owner Mark Cuban said recently. "That's pretty much the way it works. The higher the payroll, the longer the losing streak, the better the chance that something happens." High payroll? Streaking downward? Mavs opportunism, meet the Lakers. In this space, we have long reported that once Dwight Howard becomes a free agent this summer, he will explore his preference list of LA, Dallas and Atlanta. We can now include Houston and Cleveland, too. (Mediots will continue to include Brooklyn. The CBA says they shouldn't.) If Dwight is unhappy enough to depart Southern California, the Mavs are a primo preference. And of course, the Mavs themselves have created "Plan Powder'' two years of on-court sacrifice while keeping their "financial powder dry'' -- in the beliefhopeneed of such an acquisition. There is a problem, though. The CBA allows a free agent's existing team to offer him a five-year deal. A new bidder can offer but four years. Therefore, LA's bid to retain Howard will total 118 million. Dallas' bid will total 87.6 million. Is Dwight Howard 30-million-worth of unhappy? The tax cost for LA to re-sign Howard on a max deal this summer is daunting, even by their standards. If the current surrounding cast doesn't change, re-signing Howard on a max deal will have LA paying about 100 million in luxury tax in 2013-14 alone, with a total outlay salary plus tax outlay of about 215 million (about triple that of most other NBA teams). But that's never been an LA blockade before; the Lakers revenue stream frees them to overspend if they wish. In Dallas, it's all about idea of Dirk as the Mavs' second-best player. Dwight does that. (Another free-agent-to-be, Chris Paul of the Clippers, does that, too. A discussion for another day). Those two are about it. CP3 has been targeted at and swung at by the Mavs for years. A DwightCP3 combo has been talked about by all three involved parties. Dirk Nowitzki his ownself is prepared to pitch. "We have a great owner and a great GM in place,'' said Dirk, who will for the first time serve as an "assistant recruiter'' of sorts. "We have a great coach in place that coached us to win the championship ... We've got some cap space and we can get some players in here that can help. ... Come on in, we'll see how far we can ride it out." The financial realities that point to Dwight remaining in LA might be offset by some emotional realities. That is certainly Dallas' hope, and none of the dollars-and-cents of this will preclude the Mavs from allowing themselves to formulate ideas and make their bid. (Even as Mavs fans guard their hearts.) Dallas will prepare its four-year, 87.6 million offer (that number isn't in cement yet pending NBA calculations). Dallas will attempt to do so cleverly. And energetically. "We're not kidding ourselves into thinking that we're right there,'' said Mavs coach Rick Carlisle. "We know we have a lot of work to do. ... I'm looking forward to this summer because once again it's another pivotal summer. It's a really important time for us.'' But while the Mavs have ways to do this, the Lakers simply have MORE ways to do this. And so on midnight July 1, the Mavs and the Lakers and others will be elbowing for space on Dwight's front stoop (figuratively, if not literally). There will be a Dallas dog-and-pony show, Dwight getting the performance the Mavs foolishly thought unnecessary for Deron last summer. There will be buzz about whether Dwight has made so much money that he can afford to leave the extra 30 mil on the table ... and there will be counter-buzz about how Dwight has a bad back and had better take all the guaranteed dough he can get, just in case. There will be questions of his maturity. Did he mishandle his relationship with Kobe, with Lakers fans, with his coach(es), with his GM? ... Or, is he 27 years old with room to grow up? "I think I handled some situations good, some situations bad, it's a growing process," said Howard by way of self-evaluation. There will be issues of "image.'' It it gone forever because the "baby'' left Orlando? Will it be damaged more if his dumps LA? If he becomes a Mav and wins big, will he be forgiven (by shoe buyers and TV watchers and the ADD media)? There will be the unknown, fueled by Dwight's end-of-season tweet: "I hope I get the chance to make it up to you!" Thank u la.'' Dissect away. He didn't say, "See u next year, la.'' Or, "I PROMISE to make it up to u, la.'' From now until July 1, dissect away.
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