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Will Dwight Howard stay with Lakers after season? Yes. Probably.

Oct 22, 2012, 3:03 PM EDT

Sacramento Kings v Los Angeles Lakers Getty Images

We didn’t need John Cusack driving across country with Daphne Zuniga to teach us there are no sure things in life. Unexpected twists turn what seem predestined into something all together different every day.

So sure, it is possible that come next summer when Dwight Howard becomes a free agent he will choose not to re-sign with the Lakers. Maybe the Kobe Bryant and Howard relationship blows up mid-season. Maybe Steve Nash goes Gilbert Arenas in Howard’s shoe. Maybe a lot of things. But none of them are likely.

You should bet that Dwight Howard will sign a max free agent contract with the Lakers next summer (it is financially in his interest to become a free agent then re-sign rather than extend, thank you new CBA). He stays in L.A.

Nobody around him is saying it’s a certainty, because you don’t want to paint yourself into a corner, but all the whispers out of the usually talkative Howard camp are that he wants to remain a Laker. He has hinted in tweets he isn’t going anywhere.

The Lakers have a few things on their side in keeping Dwight. One is guaranteed money — they have Howard’s Bird rights and can offer larger raises and a fifth guaranteed year on his contract. No other team could do that. And while the money isn’t enough to keep him if he wanted out, an extra locked in year is a nice bit of stability.

Second, the Lakers in Los Angeles can offer the kind of exposure, the kind of marketing opportunities other markets (outside New York) simply cannot. Howard likes the spotlight, he wants to be loved by fans, and he wants to do television and movies. While he’d be smart to keep his head down for a little bit and just play basketball after how his move out of Orlando hurt his PR, the Lakers can offer him a stage few other teams can.

The Lakers can also offer a chance at a ring. For the next two seasons at least, the Lakers will be considered serious title contenders. There is still the mountain to climb that is Miami, and getting by the Thunder will be far from easy, but the Lakers are talking titles right now. Then in two summers the Lakers have the opportunity to restructure the roster again around Howard (and Steve Nash for one more season) with a lot of cap space. Howard is not going to land in a spot where he is more likely to win titles.

Finally, there is the image issue. Howard damaged his brand with his terrible handling of how he left the Orlando Magic. When people are saying you handled your exit worse than LeBron James, you did it very wrong. But how you fix that image is to win games on the court and be likeable off it (Howard doesn’t have the personality to go with the Kobe Bryant “go ahead and hate me, I don’t care” attitude). To start a free agent bidding process this summer is to stir up all the muck that is just starting to settle. The smart move is to stay in Los Angeles and win rings. Ask Kobe and LeBron what that can do for your image.

With all that stacked up, it’s difficult to see Howard bolting Los Angeles this summer to play for the Mavericks or another side with cap space.

Never say never. But from the word out of his camp to just plain logic, it’s hard not to see him staying with the Lakers.

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