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Report: Lakers not looking to trade Dwight Howard. Yet.

Jan 23, 2013, 10:20 AM EDT

Dwight Howard AP

We told you how the rumor mill had started — Dwight Howard trade talk is heating up everywhere.

Except with the Lakers. They are not interested at all.

Yet.

The Lakers brought in Dwight Howard to be the latest in the long line of great centers to play for the organization and keeping him long term as the face of the franchise after Kobe Bryant is still their plan, reports ESPNLosAngeles.com.

But they add that it could be starting to change.

The Los Angeles Lakers have consistently turned away trade inquiries in recent weeks for All-Star center Dwight Howard and still believe they have a strong chance of signing him to a new contract when Howard becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer, according to sources close to the situation.

But sources told ESPN.com this week the Lakers might be forced to reconsider that position between now and the Feb. 21 trade deadline because of Howard’s growing unhappiness with his role under coach Mike D’Antoni and the potential that raises for Howard leaving them in July without compensation.

As I noted yesterday, the big concern with the bunk “the Nets want Dwight Howard” rumor was the rumor’s source — a reporter known for ties close to the Howard camp. If people around Howard are starting to think about trade possibilities and moving him, that’s the first real sign that he may not re-sign with the Lakers this summer.

Well, that and his disinterested and disengaged play of late. Howard may not like the system but he still has a lot of lessons to learn about winning on a real title contender.

But it’s simple for the Lakers — if Howard is likely to walk next summer they have to consider moves.

What about trading Pau Gasol instead? Don’t bet on it, reports ESPNLA.

In addition to rebuffing the trade interest in Howard, Lakers officials are also reluctant to trade Pau Gasol for players who fit D’Antoni’s system better — despite Gasol’s recent demotion to the bench — because they still have no assurances Howard will stay beyond this season and don’t want to risk losing both of their elite big men after trading away Andrew Bynum in the original Howard deal last August. The Lakers’ league-high $100 million payroll likewise makes it difficult to seriously consider deals involving Gasol because the Spaniard’s $19.3 million salary would almost certainly require them to take back long-term contracts they want to avoid. L.A. has been trying to preserve the considerable payroll flexibility that it’s on course to have in summer 2014.

The bottom of that graph is the real key — the Lakers want maximum flexibility with their roster for the summer of 2014, both to lower payroll from the current $100 million level and to let them reshape the roster (remember LeBron James can opt out of Miami that year). The Lakers are not taking back long-term contracts, which really limits what they can do.

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