When Dwight Howard was in the middle of deciding whether to stay with or leave the Orlando Magic, I thought he was one of the most annoying players of all time. Now, after only spending a season in a Los Angeles Lakers jersey, he’s on the move again. This time, however, his decision was quick and deliberate, indicating that the Lakers have a bumpy road ahead of them.
After pleads from Kobe Bryant and Lakers’ General Manager Mitch Kupchak to stay on, Howard announced on Friday he’d made the surprise decision to leave sunny Southern California.
“I’ve decided to become a member of the Houston Rockets,” Howard said in a Twitter announcement. “I feel it’s the best place for me, and I am excited about joining the Rockets and I’m looking forward to a great season. I want to thank the fans in Los Angeles, and wish them the best.”
The news here isn’t so much about why he wants to become a Rocket but, rather, why he doesn’t want to remain a Laker after only one season.
Perhaps the Lakers are just too old to win a championship anytime soon? Maybe Howard really doesn’t fit into coach Mike D’Antoni’s system? Maybe being a Laker wasn’t as much fun as Howard had hoped it would be? We all know Howard plays best when he’s able to joke and have a good time. Whatever the reason, Howard hit the road to Houston with no remorse.
Last season was a season to forget, if you are a Lakers fan. Finishing with a record of 45-37, there seemed to be no team concept, except let Kobe shoot and shoot again. I honestly thought Kobe was the team’s biggest problem. He was acting like a point guard, basically taking Steve Nash out of the equation; instead of dishing the ball for easy baskets, Kobe shot and shot and shot and shot. Sometimes Kobe’s shooting ability provided the Lakers a chance to win. More often than not, however, his desire to shoot all the time brought the Lakers down.
So when Kobe went down with his season-ending injury, I thought we would see a new kind of Lakers take the court. With Nash running on the point, I thought we would see more out of Howard and Pau Gasol. As it turns out, the team remained in disarray. They still couldn't find an identity. It was probably as confusing a season as Howard has ever been a part of.
Not that Howard brought much to the team either. Howard spent much of the season dealing with a back injury that wouldn’t go away. He was productive, however, and just not to the level the Lakers had hoped to get out of the athletic big man. He averaged 17.1 points per game, and finished with a league-best 12.4 rebounds, 2.4 blocks per game and shot 57.8 percent from the field.
Despite a mediocre season, the Lakers knew that Dwight Howard was their future. Yes, personalities within the team clashed with Dwight in the lineup, but even those who didn’t get along with Howard (Kobe) knew Howard was the future of the Lakers. Billboards in Los Angeles pleaded with Howard to stay. Kobe reportedly told Howard that if he stayed, he’d teach him how to be a champion. The Lakers were desperate to keep Howard.
You have to admit the courtship of Dwight Howard by the Lakers was kind of weird; honestly, it didn’t seem like Howard fit into the whole Lakers thing. Howard was made fun of in locker room interviews by his own teammates. Howard’s personality didn’t fit in with the team. For one season, at least, the Dwight Howard experiment in Los Angeles failed. Yet, the Lakers so desperately wanted to keep Howard in Los Angeles, because he was all they had.
He’s all they had – and he walked out on them. He decided to go play for an organization that, frankly, has more young talent and a better shot at winning a NBA title. When Dwight Howard left the Orlando Magic, the story around that never-ending situation was how long it took for Dwight to make the decision. The story this time around was how quick and deliberate Dwight was. It seems Dwight knows something the Lakers don’t: Los Angeles doesn’t have a bright future ahead of them, for once, and they don’t have any idea on how to right the ship.
But the dark future the Lakers are facing doesn’t have much to do with Kobe and its current roster of aging players – yes, they play into it, but it seems the team’s ownership is off track, and they’ve made one misstep after another.
Reports came out this week that former Lakers coach Phil Jackson was planning to come out of retirement to coach the Lakers last season after they abruptly fired Mike Brown, who had just started the regular season with a 1-4 record. Jackson was on the top of the Lakers’ list to become a coach again, but then was quickly thrown to the curb when they hired D’Antoni instead. All this time there was speculation as to whether or not Jackson would actually coach again, but, as he recently told an ESPN reporter, he was planning to do it once he was medically cleared by his doctor to do so.
So the Lakers ownership jumped the gun on D’Antoni and kept Jackson in retirement. Stupid. Imagine if they waited and accepted Jackson as the next head coach of the Lakers? They would have likely made further into the post-season. The team would have had an identity, looking at a bright future with Dwight Howard leading the charge.
Make no mistake about it: Dwight Howard’s decision to flee Los Angeles is a sign of dark times to come for the Lakers. The team’s ownership and management is in disarray. The team is geriatric. The Lakers are entering into a rebuilding phase, which is something the Lakers aren’t used to. And unfortunately for Lakers fans, it's a phase that an aging Kobe Bryant won’t be able to shoot the team out of any time soon. I look forward to seeing Dwight smile again down in muggy Houston.