The biggest question facing the Lakers this summer isn’t the health of Kobe Bryant, and if he’ll be able to make it back in time for the start of next season.
Undoubtedly, it’s whether or not Dwight Howard will decide to return to Los Angeles.
Bryant is the Lakers’ most important player, obviously. But next season will be his 18th in the league, so he’s likely to only be around for another couple of years at most. Howard, meanwhile, is in the prime of his career, and has the option to sign a max contract that will keep him in purple and gold for the next five seasons.
The Lakers want to build around Howard moving forward into its post-Bryant era, and they need an All-Star level player just like him who would embrace being the future face of the franchise. Most see the combination of the team and its big market city as a perfect situation for Howard to settle into for the long haul, and that includes Steve Nash.
“I’m very hopeful that Dwight will be back,” Nash said Monday. “I think this is the place for him. He’s in the prime of his career. He’s got his best years ahead of him. He can play for one of the greatest franchises in sports and an amazing city. This has got to be the place for him and I’m hopeful that he sees it that way.”
Howard, 27, becomes a free agent in July, able to sign a five-year, $118-million deal with the Lakers or a four-year, $88-million deal with someone else.
While the $30 million difference in guaranteed money may seem like an incentive to stay (and it is), it won’t be the main factor in Howard’s decision.
Playing for the Lakers is anything but easy, given the championship level of expectations that are rightfully heaped upon the players’ shoulders season after season. The team does everything it can to assemble a roster capable of winning a championship every single year, and as we saw this season, when things aren’t going as planned, it can be especially draining for the team’s superstars.
Howard said this year was “like a nightmare,” remember, so whether or not he wants to deal with the possibility of failed expectations in Los Angeles — where every season is literally championship or bust — will weigh heavily in his decision.
As for Nash, of course he wants Howard back. He came to Los Angeles to try to be a part of a championship contender, and having a dominant rim-protecting presence inside would certainly be a key component in the Lakers once again achieving that level of success.