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Lakers could begin shopping unhappy Dwight Howard

01.23.13 at 4:06 pm ET

The Lakers have been reluctant to talk trades so far, hoping to avoid making their topsy-turvy season even more dramatic, but ESPN reports that they could begin shopping Dwight Howard before the trade deadline because he’s frustrated with his role in coach Mike D’Antoni‘s system.

The Nets were recently rumored to be making a play for Howard in a three-way trade that would also involve the Timberwolves, but they denied that rumor quickly and vehemently.

Reports of that deal may have been exaggerated, but the likelihood of Howard moving before the Feb. 21 deadline seems to be growing. Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak said nothing is imminent, but he didn’t deny that Howard could be traded.

“I don’t think we’re at the point where you say, ‘It’s time for a trade,’ and a trade happens in three to four days. That’s just not how this league works,” Kupchak told ESPN.

Howard came to the Lakers as a free agent after a high-profile departure from the Magic. He would be a free agent again this offseason if the Lakers don’t sign him to a long-term contract. Howard hasn’t expressed any desire to leave in free agency or specifically to be traded, but he has struggled on the court recently and appears frustrated with a system where he doesn’t get the chances he feels he deserves.

After the Lakers’ Jan. 21 loss to the Bulls, Kobe Bryant, too, spoke about the problems he and Howard have had finding a rhythm.

“I’ve tried to go out of my way to get [Howard] the ball,” Bryant said. “Sometimes I end up looking like an idiot, because I get up in the air, I’ve got a shot, but I try to find him. But he thinks I’m going to shoot, so his back is turned. I’m trying to think about getting him the ball a lot — take care of him as much as I possibly can. It takes me out of rhythm a little bit, but I’m fine with that. If that’s going to help our team, I’m more than willing to do that.

“I’ve constantly tried to help him out, tried to talk to him,” Bryant continued. “Two o’clock in the morning, 3 o’clock in the morning. Texting him. Sharing reading materials. Anything to try and help him. He’s coming off a major surgery in a market where it’s just merciless, where there’s demands and responsibilities of athletes. It’s been tough on him.”

Along with Steve Nash, Howard was one of the marquee free agent acquisitions for the Lakers this summer, and the plan at the time clearly was to lock him up for the long term. But with his dissatisfaction and the Lakers’ 17-24 record at the midway point of the season, those well-laid plans could be shifting.

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