Lakers star Kobe Bryant, center, in action. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)
The Lakers hit the off-season with a questionable future. Dwight Howard will be a free agent in July and has yet to indicate whether he'll stay or go.
If Howard does re-sign, the Lakers have to at least consider trading Pau Gasol, given that the combined salaries for Kobe Bryant, Howard and Gasol total $70.3 million.
Bryant has a clear preference, which he tweeted Monday:
Howard has some financial incentive to stay with the Lakers. The team can sign him for five years at $118 million.
Other teams, such as the Houston Rockets, Atlanta Hawks and Dallas Mavericks, might have the space to sign Howard for four years at $87.6 million.
The advantage the Lakers have is the fifth year but Howard, barring catastrophic injury, is likely to be highly compensated after four years -- should he leave for another franchise.
If Howard does walk, the Lakers are more likely to retain Gasol for his final season under contract ($19.3 million).
Another question looming is Bryant's health after surgery to repair his torn Achilles' tendon.
The Lakers have just Steve Nash on the books for the 2014-15 season. They'd like to add Howard to that list while armed with enough cap room to go after a top free agent (like LeBron James).
How Bryant fits into the Lakers' future beyond the coming season is also unclear. The veteran guard has hinted at retirement upon completion of his current contract.
Bryant will be the highest-paid player in the NBA next season at $30.5 million.
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Email Eric Pincus at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.