The NBA playoffs aren't even over, but talk of free agency has already begun.
Much of the chatter has centered around the league's two biggest free agents this coming offseason: Chris Paul and Dwight Howard.
Recently, a source told ESPN.com that Paul has been frustrated with the Los Angeles Clippers franchise, as he feels he is being blamed for the firing of coach Vinny Del Negro.
That isn't the only drama in L.A., as Howard keeps everyone guessing what his offseason move will be: whether it is re-signing with the Lakers or departing for another team.
Howard's last image in a Lakers uniform this past season was not a positive one, as he was ejected in the beginning of the third quarter of his team's final playoff game against the San Antonio Spurs.
After the ejection, Howard took to Twitter.
"Im (sic) sorry for letting my team and our fans down when they needed me the most," Howard wrote. "I hope I get the chance to make it up to you!"
Howard's fate is in his own hands, and he definitely has the chance to make it up to the Lakers and their fans — if he wants to. However, Howard is keeping his options open.
"It's free agency and I have the opportunity to choose where I'm going to play," he told The L.A. Times. "God opens doors, and I'm relying on my faith to direct me."
The two front-runners to compete with the Lakers for Howard seem to be the Houston Rockets and the Dallas Mavericks.
The Rockets have mentioned getting "hopeful signals" from Howard, but what exactly that means is open to debate.
The reasons why Howard would consider Houston are obvious: They have a great team full of young talent with Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons, and a superstar in James Harden. A center like Howard could make the Rockets a formidable force in the Western Conference.
But after last season's "Dwightmare Saga," Howard has been known to change his mind on an everyday basis. He is unpredictable, and indecisive.
If money was everything, then the Lakers would already have Howard in the bag.
The Lakers can offer Howard a five-year contract worth around $120 million, where Houston and Dallas can only offer four-year contracts worth just under $90 million. Financially, the Lakers would be the obvious choice.
Unfortunately for Los Angeles, it isn't only money that Howard is interested in.
"I want to win; I've done everything else," he told The L.A. Times. "I just want to win."
When it comes to winning, only the Boston Celtics have more NBA championships than the Lakers, and no other franchise matches the Lakers in NBA Finals appearances.
Aside from the rich history of the Lakers franchise, there is also the nice luxury of playing with Kobe Bryant, who is known for wanting to win above anything.
"I'd rather be perceived as a winner than a good teammate." Bryant wrote on Facebook in 2012. "I wish they both went hand in hand all the time but that's just not reality. I have nothing in common with lazy people who blame others for their lack of success. Great things come from hard work and perseverance. No excuses."
Throughout last year, Howard and Bryant struggled to be on the same page, but if it is only winning that Howard wants, then there shouldn't be any problem with Bryant.
From a winning standpoint, the Lakers seem to be the perfect team for him. But Howard seems to think he can win anywhere.
"Any team I am on can win." Howard told The L.A. Times.
That seems like a solid statement, considering that Howard's teams have made the playoffs seven years in a row. Howard also led his team to the NBA Finals in 2009, where it lost to Bryant and the Lakers.
So certainly, any team Howard is on can win, but the question is, how much can it win? If Howard is interested in winning championships, then he won't be able to do it alone. He will need some help.
There aren't many athletes in the world who are as driven and competitive as Bryant, and when it comes to winning, Bryant has done it his entire career, winning five championships with the Lakers.
The gigantic catch is that Bryant is recovering from a torn Achilles tendon, and at age 34, many doubt the superstar can return to full strength.
In the end, Howard plans to do whatever makes him happy.
"For me, I’m going to do what’s best for myself, what’s going to make me happy,” Howard told Sports Illustrated. "At the end of the day, I can’t control who likes me and who dislikes me but I have the right to be happy. That’s what I’m going to do. That’s the biggest thing right there."
You can follow Mitch Kunzler on Twitter at: @MitchKunzler
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