Howard in Houston or Dallas?

Premier big man eyeing Rockets and Mavericks as possible destinations

Updated: June 4, 2013, 12:37 PM ET
By Larry Coon | ESPN Insider

Dwight Howard AP Photo/John RaouxIf Dwight Howard leaves the Lakers this offseason, will his next stop be Dallas or Houston?

Two Texas teams -- the Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets -- have their eyes on the Dwight Howard prize this summer. One has a realistic shot at landing him. For the other, it's a goal that probably will remain elusive.

Howard, one of the leaders of the 2013 free-agent class (along with Chris Paul), will have no shortage of suitors when teams are allowed to contact players beginning July 1. Despite his up-and-down season with the Lakers, he remains an impact player and one of the top -- if not the top -- centers in the league, and many teams are sure to come calling.

Having the means to sign him, however, is another matter. As the incumbent, the Lakers are in the driver's seat from a collective bargaining agreement standpoint. They have his Bird rights, which means they can sign him without needing to worry about cap room. They can also give him a longer contract (five years instead of four) and bigger raises (7.5 percent rather than 4.5 percent) than any other team.

For the remaining 29 teams, obtaining Howard means either freeing up about $20.5 million of cap space or working out a suitable sign-and-trade deal with the Lakers while persuading Howard to take a smaller amount than he can get in L.A.

But even though the Lakers have the advantage on paper, many other factors point to Howard being obtainable. His tribulations in Los Angeles are well documented -- the lack of youth and athleticism in the team's supporting cast, his difficulty fitting into Mike D'Antoni's system, the discomfort that sometimes comes with playing on a team led by Kobe Bryant and the prospect of Bryant's extended absence and possible adjustment issues when he returns.

Enter the Rockets and Mavericks. Here is how both teams might be maneuvering to try to lure Howard to Texas.

Larry Coon is the author of the NBA Salary Cap FAQ.