One source familiar with the trade negotiations said Thursday that calls between the Houston Rockets and Lakers discussing a three-way trade have cooled, while the Atlanta Hawks appear to be gaining steam in their pursuit of Howard.
With Howard's eventual destination still anybody's guess, the Lakers are turning their attention to adding a backup big man or two.
The Lakers remain in negotiations with Jordan Hill, who averaged 4.7 points and 4.4 rebounds in seven regular-season games with L.A. after being acquired from the Houston Rockets at the trade deadline in March. Hill's agent, Bill Duffy, told ESPNLosAngeles.com on Wednesday that there was still some distance between the two sides, but he planned to circle back with Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak before Hill made his final decision. The Lakers hold partial Bird rights to Hill and can offer him a maximum of $3,632,450 per season for up to five years.
Aside from Hill, appearing on the Lakers' "short list" of names they are hoping to add to the roster for the veteran's minimum are Antawn Jamison, Elton Brand and Jermaine O'Neal, according to a source familiar with the team's thinking.
The Lakers also have the "mini" mid-level exception available to them, beginning at $3 million a season, but prefer to hold off on using that in case a Howard deal goes down involving multiple players and they are left needing to fill a glaring void.
Not only is adding a backup big man a priority because signing Hill might not work out, but because Josh McRoberts and his expiring $3.1 million contract have drawn interest from other teams in potential Howard trade scenarios.
Jamison, 36, averaged 17.2 points and 6.3 rebounds last year for Cleveland in his 14th season in the league, but shot a career-low 40.3 percent from the field.
He was acquired by the Cavaliers via trade in 2009-10, the last season Lakers coach Mike Brown was at the helm for the Cavs. The Lakers are in competition with several other teams for Jamison's services, including Brooklyn, Golden State and Charlotte, and a source close to Jamison said on Thursday the Nets appeared to be his preferred destination at the moment.
The final one-year, $18 million remaining on Brand's contract was amnestied by Philadelphia on Thursday. Brand, 32, averaged 11.0 points and 7.2 rebounds for the 76ers last season. Brand will be first made available to teams under the salary cap through the waiver process, with under-the-cap teams able to bid on him. Dallas is under the cap and has interest in Brand, according to ESPN.com's Marc Stein.
If Brand clears waivers, he will be free to sign as a free agent wherever he chooses and could decide a return to L.A., where he played for the Clippers for seven seasons, would be in order.
O'Neal, 33, played just 25 games for Boston last season, averaging 5.0 points and 5.4 rebounds before having his year end because of left wrist surgery. The market for O'Neal is not as robust as it is for Jamison and Brand and the Lakers figure he could be worth the risk if he can come into camp healthy.
O'Neal recently traveled to Germany to visit Dr. Peter Wehling, the same doctor who Kobe Bryant has consulted in recent years. O'Neal is also a member of the famed 1996 draft class, along with Bryant and Steve Nash. Bryant said that draft connection helped in convincing Nash to want to come to the Lakers.
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