It will be the story of the Lakers' off-season, they hope without anything remotely resembling "The Decision."
Will Dwight Howard stay or go?
Howard said this week he deserved "the right to be happy" and he has a handful of choices to mull in free agency beyond the Lakers.
Of course, the other four suitors have won a total of four NBA titles, one-fourth the Lakers' championship collection.
Anyway, here's one writer's insights into where Howard ends up.
Commonly known as the Mavericks, for this story they'll be The Biggest Competition For Dwight Howard's Services Other Than The Lakers (TBCFDHSOTTL).
In Mark Cuban, they have a free-spending owner who loves Howard, and the team has plenty of cap space to make a four-year, $88-million contract happen. They have Dirk Nowitzki for one more season and they've done something more recently than the Lakers — win an NBA championship.
Of course, there are a few small things missing from TBCFDHSOTTL. You know, a winning tradition spanning decades, an accomplished line of All-Star centers and something akin to the enclave of Bel-Air, where Howard lives contentedly among scores of celebrities and uber-millionaires on leafy, hilly, quiet streets. Hey, to each his own.
The Hawks always come up when a big name becomes a free agent. What about Howard going back to his hometown? Where he honed his skills on the hardwood, where he went from a boy to a man, where family and friends would be a wonderful support network?
Don't see it happening. The Hawks have plenty of money to spend this summer even if they re-sign forward Josh Smith, but Howard has only a minor interest in signing with them.
There's also that gigantic problem of the Hawks' $36 million guaranteed to center Al Horford over the next three years. Wait. Does anybody want to see him in Los Angeles via sign-and-trade? Hmmmm.
Houston is a lot like Los Angeles except for one major question: Where's the payoff?
You sit forever in long lines on Interstate 45, you live in a perennial top-10 member of America's worst smog cities and you have sweltering summers. At least Los Angeles has 25 miles of beaches, something besides Whataburger and Taco Cabana at every traffic light, and I'll just stop right there before I'm put on a watch list by the Houston Chamber of Commerce.
The Rockets have something the Lakers don't — good, young talent (James Harden, Chandler Parsons). But one of their up-and-comers is also a minor duplication issue at center: Omer Asik has two more years and almost $17 million on his contract.
Whatever. General Manager Daryl Morey, one of the best in the business, can surely figure out how to trade Asik if necessary. If only he could do something about the traffic.
Really? The Suns as a possible destination? Yes.
They're the dark-horse candidates to get Howard's services and that's about the nicest thing written about the Suns in years.
Owner Robert Sarver has somehow gone from Mike D'Antoni's seven seconds or less to several years of junk, letting free agent after free agent walk out of the Valley of the Sun.
Anybody ready for Sarver's Revenge? Yeah, me neither.
But it would be fun to see the look from Suns center Marcin Gortat, a backup for years behind Howard in Orlando, if he found himself displaced again.
This would have seemed laughable a few months ago. Howard's back was hurting, his relationship with Kobe Bryant was off to a horribly awkward start and the Lakers were 17-25 after an alleged clear-the-air meeting in Memphis.
Now it seems as if they'll win the Dwight Derby.
The Lakers will have to be patient, they might even gnaw nails down to bone as he visits all of the places above in July, but they felt comfortable after their half-court press for Howard before he left their training facility Tuesday.
General Manager Mitch Kupchak told him how much he wanted him back, as did Bryant, publicly and privately.
More than many NBA players, Howard wants to please people — fans, teammates, coaches and even us little reporters. His closing comments at his end-of-season interview were how much he enjoyed dealing with Times sports columnist T.J. Simers. What athlete ever enjoyed that?
But despite what Howard said Tuesday about not having the power to control "who likes me, who dislikes me," he wants everybody to like him and nobody to dislike him.
If he leaves L.A. he'll be seen as a nomad — with a third NBA team in as many years.
He'll be back with the Lakers within two months. All it will cost them is five years and $118 million.