Last summer, in the wake of the news that DeMarcus Cousins suffered a torn ACL in his left knee, the Lakers unexpectedly gave Dwight Howard — who infamously left Los Angeles after one season in 2013 — a one-year contract. However, there was a catch.
Because of the way things ended with his last few teams, the Lakers wanted Howard to prove he was willing to be a team player before they made a season-long financial commitment to him. They did that by making Howard sign a non-guaranteed contract for the veteran’s minimum — the first non-guaranteed contract of his illustrious career.
To Howard’s credit, there was no big adjustment period. Immediately, he accepted his role as the Lakers’ primary backup center and he played it well, so well that midway through the Western Conference Finals, Howard earned a spot in the starting lineup.
Howard’s return to relevancy was the feel-good story of the 2019-20 season, and the fact that it ended with him winning his first-ever championship made it even better. However, Howard’s done with that chapter in his life.
That doesn’t mean Howard wants to leave the Lakers — in fact, during a recent interview with Etan Thomas of Basketball News, Howard said he’d “love” to come back to Los Angeles. But Howard also made it clear that he’s not signing any more non-guaranteed contracts:
“I would love to. I would love to come back and play. You know, I think the season that we had this year was like a test for all. We were trying to learn each other and try to figure each other out, and in the process, we won a championship. I would love for all of us to come back. I would love to come back and play for the Lakers again. Hopefully this year they give me a contract … that’s the biggest thing. I don’t want to play for free anymore.
“This year, it was like, ‘okay, I’ll do whatever,’ but I think that I’ve earned a right to have an opinion on a contract for myself. So that’s the biggest thing. But I would definitely love to come back and play for the Lakers. They have the best fans in the world. It’s been amazing. My wife plays for the Sparks, so it would be great for us to still be in the same city and play.”
Howard will be an unrestricted free agent when the free agency moratorium window opens on Nov. 19, and according to a report from Shams Charania of The Athletic in October, there is “mutual interest” between Howard in the Lakers in getting a deal done. However, the Lakers aren’t the only team that will be vying for Howard’s steady defensive production.
In the same report, Charania reported that the Golden State Warriors plan to pursue Howard in free agency. Like the Lakers, the Warriors will go into free agency over the salary cap, and because the Lakers don’t have his bird rights, the most either team can offer him without using an exception is the veteran’s minimum.
Right now, it’s unclear what Howard’s expectations are when it comes to his salary, but at the minimum (no pun intended), he wants a guaranteed contract, and after the season he had with the Lakers, that shouldn’t be a deal-breaker for any team.