DALLAS (105.3 THE FAN) – The Dallas Mavericks are approaching tonight’s NBA Draft and the July 1 opening of free agency as if they have a legitimate shot at “big fish’’ Dwight Howard. A national report now calls it “unlikely’’ the All-Star center will remain with the Lakers and  claims that Dallas is the “front-runner’’ destination.

The valid base of the story is two years in the making. Howard has long admired the way Mavs owner Mark Cuban does his basketball business – business that includes shopping Dallas’ No. 13 overall pick in the Draft in order to carve out the cap room needed for an outright signing of a player of Howard’s stature.

But making room is the easy part; the Mavs can essentially do so with a give-away of Vince Carter’s contract, freeing up space to give Howard a max deal that starts as $20,513,178. Convincing Howard that Dallas is worth forgoing the extra $30 million guaranteed the Lakers can give him with a five-year deal (as opposed to a four-year deal teams like Dallas and Houston are limited to) is the challenge.

The Lakers’ max offer: five years and $118 million contract. The other suitors’ max: $87.6 million over four years.

Howard has always planned to explore free agency. Dallas, Houston, Atlanta and the Lakers will be on his July 1 doorstep. Sources tell 105.3 The Fan that the Mavs plan to explain to him how their cap flexibility will allow him a voice in future organizational decisions – a power Howard expressed a wish for when in Orlando two years ago, at which time the Mavs started angling for ways to acquire him.

The Mavericks can shed $1.66 million in cap commitments by trading out of the No. 13 spot. They can also gain $9.32 million in space by giving away Shawn Marion, though neither of those moves are necessary until the point there is a commitment from Howard to come to Dallas. Indications are that the Mavs’ aggressiveness in those areas suggest a belief that Dallas will be granted a serious audience with Howard once the calendar turns to July. And when that happens, Dallas hopes the jostling with Houston (and other suitors) won’t be about “styles of play’’ or “supplemental pieces on the roster,’’ as those sorts of things are fluid and changeable.

Dallas wishes to sell its track record for having a stable and consistent foundation of success – and Howard’s ability to take the baton from Dirk Nowitzki and continue that success.

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