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

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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.

Klay Thompson goes up for 360 dunk in exhibition… and he’s not a dunker (VIDEO)

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Klay Thompson has an amazing skill set — one of the best pure shooters in the league, he can put the ball on the floor and create, and he’s a very good perimeter defender.

He’s not a dunker. Oh, he can dunk, but he’s not the guy you’re inviting to the Dunk Contest.

Case in point, this video out of China where Thompson was part of an exhibition and tried to show off his dunking skills.

Thompson’s shoe sponsor is China-based Anta, which explains why he’s there playing some exhibition ball. In case you missed it, Thompson had a Finals shoe released.

Those are about as good as the 360 dunk.

Sixers will talk contract extension for Joel Embiid this summer, want to lock him up

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Could Joel Embiid be Philadelphia’s Stephen Curry?

No, I don’t mean taking 30-foot bombs that demoralize opponents (although, no doubt Embiid is game for trying it). I mean in having a contract extension off his rookie deal for less than the max, a value contract that allows the Sixers the cap room to secure a title contender around him.

After three seasons in the NBA, Joel Embiid is eligible for a contract extension this summer (one that would be negotiated now but not kick in until the 2018-19 season). Teams lock up their stars at this point, and Embiid is that — he was dominant in the 31 games he played. But it’s 31 games in three seasons, how much do the Sixers want to pay here?

Sixers owner Joshua Harris said extending Embiid is a priority for the team this summer, speaking at a press conference, via the Courier Times.

“Look, I’d just say we want Joel to be on the team for a long time,” Harris said. “We want us all to grow old together. That’s the way I would put it.”

A max contract for Embiid would be five years at about $130 million, an average annual salary of $26 million. Because of his injury history, would he be willing to sign five years at $100 million, maybe with an opt-out after four? That extra cap space may not sound like a lot, it’s not a Curry-level savings, but it would help the Sixers’ team building.

If the two sides can’t reach a deal by Oct. 31 (the deadline), Embiid will play out this season then be a restricted free agent next season. If he stays healthy, he will get a max deal from another team that the Sixers would just match (the Sixers and Embiid could also reach a deal).

The Sixers are not about to let Embiid go, they have their young core they believe they can contend with in a few years. Plus he is a fan favorite. The only question left is cost.

Josh Jackson’s first pitch is… just a bit outside

Associated Press
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Josh Jackson is not going Bo Jackson on us and playing baseball in the offseason.

The highly-rated forward out of Kansas who was the No. 4 pick of the Phoenix Suns was invited to throw out the first pitch before Friday night’s Diamondbacks game.

To quote Bob Uecker, he was just a bit outside. He tried the corner and missed.

Lonzo Ball was able to make his first pitch, ergo, he will turn out to be a much better NBA player. Obviously, these skills correlate.

Report: Re-signing Nerlens Noel Mavericks’ top off-season priority

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This is a Mark Cuban owned team, you don’t think the Mavericks are going to make a serious run at a free agent come July 1? Pelicans’ point guard Jrue Holiday has long been known to be a target, but there will be others.

But keeping their new core together, including restricted free agent Nerlens Noel, is the top priority, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

Rumors like this are out there in part from Dallas to hope to chill the market for Noel. While he could be a defensive force who provides some scoring around the rim, with Noel’s injury history they may be able to get him at less than max money — because if he’s at the max the Mavericks are flirting with the luxury tax (and Cuban isn’t going to want to pay the tax for a borderline playoff team at best).

What Dallas fears is what Brooklyn did last season to Allen Crabbe in Portland and Tyler Johnson in Miami — some team to come in with a max or near-max offer sheet that drives up the price. Dallas will match, they will keep the young core together, it just gets more expensive.

Next season in Dallas will be a deserved big farewell to Dirk Nowitzki. He will be the focus, but behind him Dallas will try to be building for the future. They made the trade deadline move to make sure Noel is a part of that, the only question now is how much it costs them.