The Los Angeles Lakers have a dilemma on their hands this summer. Center Dwight Howard is an unrestricted free agent. So going into free agency, should they re-sign Howard or let him walk?
Let him walk. He’s not the worth the maximum contract that the Lakers could give him.
Don’t get me wrong, he’s a great player. Since coming into the league in 2004 as the No. 1 overall pick, the 6-foot-11, 260-pound Howard has been a force. He has led the league in rebounding for five out of his nine seasons in the league. He led the Orlando Magic to the NBA Finals in 2009, but lost to Kobe Bryant and the Lakers in five games.
He is one of the game’s best defensive players, winning the Defensive Player of the Year Award three straight times from 2008-2011. But, maximum contract players should be franchise guys — guys that you can build a team around and expect them to lead that team.
Howard is not that guy.
For all of his talent, he has displayed a ton of immaturity during his career. In Orlando, he feuded with head coach Stan Van Gundy and ultimately got him fired. During his final season with the Magic, he was very non-committal about his future, and wouldn’t give a straight answer on where he wanted to play. The whole situation just made him look bad.
Perhaps worst of all though, was him getting ejected from the series-clinching game in the first round of the playoffs this year, a sweep at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs. Howard was ejected in the first half for arguing with the officials. A franchise player getting kicked out of a must-win game when your best player in Bryant and point guard Steve Nash are out with injuries? Seriously?
And he’s worth the $118 million that the Lakers would pay him over five years? A guy who quit on his team and who was already thinking about next year when the Lakers needed him most? That would set his per season salary at $23.6 million?
There should be no chance of that happening. Granted, Howard was recovering from offseason back surgery pretty much this whole season, so he may have never been completely 100 percent, but that is still no excuse for a lack of effort.
You could make the argument that Howard isn’t even the best center in the league today. Memphis Grizzlies‘ Marc Gasol, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, is bigger than Howard; he’s still a very effective rebounder, and has a much more refined offensive game. Brook Lopez, the Nets’ emerging all-star big man, has a more potent offensive game than Howard as well.
Charles Barkley alluded to Howard’s limited post game on Inside the NBA a few weeks ago. He said that back in 2009, when Howard led Orlando to the Finals, there was thought that he needed to develop a solid post game in order to be a star in the league and a truly dominant force.
We are still waiting for that development to happen. For a guy that wants to be considered the best in the league at his position and a max contract player, that post game shouldn’t still be in its developmental stages.
Howard will most certainly get his money somewhere. Whether it’s in Los Angeles is another question. In my opinion, he would be better suited going to a team like the Houston Rockets — a smaller market where he could pair up with young star James Harden to create a dangerous one-two punch.
Los Angeles would bring too much pressure. He would be the marquee guy on maybe the NBA’s most marquee franchise, constantly compared to Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O’Neal, former Lakers greats and all-timers.
Simply put, it’s just not the best situation for him.