From all the signs he’s given, and the confidence the front office has shown, it seems like the big guy will indeed be staying in LA, signing a max contract with the team.
There are several reasons for this. The first is that having the confidence of a legendary organization like the Lakers it pretty meaningful. GM Mitch Kupchak said back in February that they planned on keeping Howard and building a team around him for many years, eventually raising his jersey to the rafters with the rest of the Laker greats.
The second reason is that as Dave McMenamin of ESPN points out, Howard won’t make as much money if he signs elsewhere. He explains:
“He becomes a free agent July 1. At that point, Howard can sign a five-year, $118 million contract to stay with the Lakers, or a four-year, $87.6 million deal with another team. While the extra $31 million in guaranteed money might not seem like as big a deal for a player who is on a career track to warrant yet another max contract when his next one is up, Howard learned that he isn't as indestructible as he thought this season, after only missing seven games total in his first seven seasons in Orlando.”
Money is a powerful motivator!
Third, Howard will stay in LA because he’s always said how he wants to be “the man” somewhere. He really could be the next Shaq in terms of entertainment value and keeping the fans engaged off the court. And obviously endorsements up the wazoo that he wouldn’t have if he played in Cleveland, for example.
More than all that though, he would be the face of the Los Angeles Lakers and make a place for himself in NBA history, just for holding that position.
So why would Howard leave?
If the pressure of being the cornerstone of this organization proved to be too much for him, where he’s expected to win a championship every year, no excuses, then he might go somewhere else where losing is acceptable.
He might also leave if the Lakers decide that they’re going to stick with Coach Mike D’Antoni. While D’Antoni has showed recently that he’ll make provisions to his system to allow two of the best big men in the league to get the ball, he did it reluctantly. Also, given a healthy roster, it’s likely that D’Antoni would revert to his old system ways.
This might be the biggest reason that Howard doesn’t come back. He has dealt with the pressure and public scrutiny of his every move all year long. However, if he’s going to work hard and be one of the best big men in the league, he better be getting the ball.
There are much bigger reasons to stay in Los Angeles than to leave, the biggest reason of course being money, since no one knows how long a career can last. Lakers fans want to hear that it’s for the honor of being a Laker, but money speaks loudest of all.