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Turns out, Barnes buys the chatter about Howard’s desire to don purple and gold, because he’s heard the same from a pretty reliable source: Dwight Howard.
“You know, I’ve been hearing [rumors about] Dwight,” acknowledged Barnes. “I’ve been hearing [rumors about] Baron [Davis in the event of getting amnestied]. I’ve been hearing stuff a lot lately. I’ve talked to both of those guys and they wanna be here, so we’ll see what happens. [...]
In any event, if Howard actually wants to be a Laker that wish doesn’t in turn become guaranteed, but the odds are certainly increased. Particularly if a G.M. shares my opinion about the protocol for trading a superstar. Generally speaking, if a team knows its franchise player isn’t long for the franchise, you’re better off trading him earlier rather than later. It’s beginning to look like Otis Smith is seeing the writing on the wall. Even if Howard doesn’t end up a Laker, it’s becoming harder to picture him a Magician considerably longer.
That collective groan you here is coming from Magic fans that have seen this script before and don’t like how it ends. The fanbase, generally speaking, doesn’t mind if Dwight Howard leaves and goes somewhere else but the last thing they want to see is him donning a Lakers jersey. Howard would undoubtedly see the same level of vitriol that Shaquille O’Neal received when he left the Orlando Magic in 1996 to sign as a free agent with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Howard is seen by fans in Orlando as the anti-Shaq. But in the eyes of many, if Howard were to bolt for the Lakers, he would be seen as no better than Shaq. Instead of “starting his own path,” Howard would be following the same path set by Shaq. That’s the general consensus.
And make no mistake. Howard’s interest in the city of Los Angeles is undeniable. That’s why Matt Barnes’ quotes should be taken seriously.
In case people forget, Barnes has a connection with Howard. When Barnes was a free agent two years ago, after expressing interest to Howard in playing with the Magic, he got a contract offer shortly thereafter. There’s no question that Howard wanted Barnes in Orlando and got his wish. The two were able to foster a relationship while playing together in the 2009-2010 season and even after Barnes left the Magic after one season, he came back to play in Howard’s charity game at the University of Central Florida in November so it’s clear they keep in touch. Barnes is speculating, of course, but to dismiss his word would be foolish. Players talk to each other all the time.
Whether or not Howard gets his wish is another story. Because the Lakers don’t have any cap space to sign Howard as a free agent if he opts out after this season, they would need to acquire him in a trade. At that point, it would be up to general manager Otis Smith to make the decision to send him to Los Angeles or not. If a trade package including Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol or Lamar Odom, draft picks, and possible salary relief appeals to Orlando, Howard may get his wish. If if doesn’t, then Howard may be out of luck.
Nevertheless, it’s becoming clearer that Howard wants to play for the Lakers.
That much is certain.