Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Bryant and point guard Nash of Canada after shaking hands after beating the Charlotte Bobcats during an NBA basketball game in Charlotte

Now that Dwight Howard is headed to Houston, what’s next for the Lakers?


Dwight Howard has made his free agent decision, and all indications are that he’s leaving Los Angeles in order to get a fresh start in Houston with the Rockets.

There are plenty of topics for discussion surrounding this, obviously, including whether or not Howard made the right choice, what his real reasons for leaving were, and what the Rockets’ roster may ultimately look like when all is said and done from a personnel standpoint.

But let’s look at the most intriguing non-Rockets angle of the story that’s out there: What’s next for the Lakers?

In terms of next season, the answer is not much.

The new collective bargaining agreement has stronger, more prohibitive luxury tax penalties for exceeding the league’s salary cap, which is expected to be just over $58 million next season.

Even with Howard gone, the Lakers have over $70 million in salary committed for 2013-14, and will still have some roster spots that will need to be filled, likely with minimum salary players.

Kobe Bryant is on the books for $30 million, Pau Gasol for over $19 million, Steve Nash for over $9 million, and Metta World Peace for over $7.7 million. The Lakers still have the amnesty option to consider, which would allow them to wipe a player from the roster and his contract from the available money the team would have to spend under the salary cap.

It’s definitely a possibility with either World Peace or Gasol, but the most likely scenario could see the Lakers standing pat for a season, and playing it out with the talent already in place.

The reason that would make sense is due to what the cap picture for the Lakers looks like the following season, when as of right now they only have $9.7 million committed to Nash — and that’s it.

A Lakers franchise that is in the business of putting itself in position to contend for titles season after season would be able to build around several free agents in 2014, and immediately return to relevance. Even if they don’t land the biggest names available, which happen to include LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, they can create a team full of second-tier guys that can provide an immediate influx of youth and talent to accompany Bryant in his final couple of NBA seasons, while putting a solid foundation in place for the future at the same time.

One other thing L.A. may look at is beginning this process sooner rather than later.

We already saw the Celtics make that decision by sending Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Nets, and if the Lakers feel like this upcoming season will be a complete lost cause — which may depend heavily on how much time Bryant misses recovering from his Achilles injury, and just how effective he’ll be once he returns — then they may look to move the expiring contracts of Gasol and/or World Peace if they can get young assets in return, or even a high lottery pick in the 2014 draft which is top heavy with elite-level talent.

Whatever the Lakers’ course of action, it won’t involve retooling immediately by chasing one of the relevant free agents still left on the market. There’s no way to do that anywhere remotely responsibly financially, so the team will in all likelihood play out next year with the roster as currently constructed, with an eye on truly rebuilding to contend for a championship when the cap space is available the following season.

PBT Extra bold prediction: Is this Andrew Wiggins’ breakout season?

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Minnesota is going to be entertaining to watch this season. A healthy Ricky Rubio (hopefully) dishing at the point, Karl-Anthony Towns is already a high-IQ passer, and bench players such as Shabazz Muhammad and Adreian Payne have shown some skills.

Then there’s Andrew Wiggins. The reigning Rookie of the Year developed quickly last season — particularly his jump shot — and he should make a big leap this season. He’s going to dunk on people and end up in a lot of highlight packages while putting up a lot of points.

Enough to set the Minnesota Timberwolves single game scoring record, currently held at 52 by Mo Williams? That’s the question for this PBT Extra with Jenna Corrado.

Derrick Rose being back for start of season in question

Fred Hoiberg, Derrick Rose
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The Bulls have said Derrick Rose is about a week away from returning after suffering a facial fracture this preseason.

The start of the NBA season is two weeks from today (Oct. 27).

So Rose will be ready to go when the Bulls start their season that first night against Cleveland, right? Don’t bet on it, says Vincent Goodwill of CSNChicago.com, quoting coach Fred Hoiberg.

The opening night projection for a Derrick Rose return is a bit murky at this point, as the Bulls are taking a cautious approach to his recovery with Fred Hoiberg essentially ruling him out for the rest of the preseason.

“Most likely (out for the preseason),” Hoiberg said….

In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Rose sit out the first handful of games, as the Bulls start the season with a three-game in four-night stretch starting Oct. 27 against the Cleveland Cavaliers, which is in two weeks.

“That will be in consideration, sure,” Hoiberg said. “We gotta make sure, he really hasn’t done anything and that will be a good two or three weeks where he has total inactivity, so just to throw him back out there going 100 percent with his speed and everything, you just don’t want to take any risks, chances, where it could be a lingering issue.”

Just what TNT and the NBA hoped for with an opening night Bulls vs. Cavaliers showcase: Kirk Hinrich vs. Mo Williams. (Don’t forget Kyrie Irving will miss the start of the season recovering from his knee surgery.)

Of course, this is the smart play for the Bulls who need to be thinking about getting Rose fully healthy and focusing on what condition he will be come April 27, not Oct. 27.

And of course, a lot of Bulls fans who are down on Rose will slam him for this. Even though the injury was a freak accident and the team is right to be patient.

Rose could play opening night, if he gets back to practice next week and can get closer to basketball shape. But I wouldn’t bet on it.