Remember all the posters? Remember the closed-door meetings? How about the months of back-and-forths fans went through trying to decipher which way Dwight Howard was leaning? And after all that, he spurned the Los Angeles Lakers and their extra millions for the greener pasture the Houston Rockets had to offer.
Now, he’s struggling to stay healthy and would be in year two of a nine-figure contract. So the question begs asking: Are the Lakers better off sans Superman? Here’s an even more fun question: Did they know they might be all along?
Something felt weird to me during that whole campaign to convince Howard to remain a Laker. The purple and gold royalty never begged players. They stayed out of social media for the most part (which remains true; their Twitter feed is the most boring in the NBA), let history speak for itself and made their case through private meetings featuring trophies and opportunities that come with Los Angeles.
#StayDwight felt forced. That’s just not the Laker way.
Put another way: If you’re not convinced Howard sticking around isn’t necessarily in your best interests – especially at $119 million total over five years – how could you make it look like you really, really wanted him? How about a grand gesture along the lines of huge posters of the good times? And if he requests anything that would actually make him stay, say you’ll try, but not really come through on said requests.
We saw those hideous posters, but when Howard demanded Kobe Bryant waived or Mike D’Antoni fired, no action was taken, was it? Losing a superstar, let alone superhero, has to sting, but it’s also possible they did their research and figured that a rebuild around Howard would be one done in vain.
Howard came to the Lakers under less-than ideal circumstances. He had just gotten Stan Van Gundy (one of the league’s most respected coaches) fired and originally balked at the idea of being a Laker, citing that he didn’t want to follow in Shaquille O’Neal’s footsteps. To his credit, he played through injury and made something close to the best out of a bad situation; but to call his time in purple and gold a success is quite the stretch.
That injury was a concern, though. Howard had recently gone through back surgery and dealt with it throughout that season. Now, he would’ve been in year two of that five-year contract with as much as $80 million left to be paid (depending on contract breakdown) after this season, but is reportedly out indefinitely with knee issues. He’s already missed 19 of the 51 games his Rockets have played. Have we seen the best Howard’s had to offer?
Meanwhile, the Lakers have become a laughing stock, as they “accidentally” tank away games in hopes of garnering a top pick. This season has been an unmitigated disaster, but there’s at least a light at the end of the tunnel in the form of Jahlil Okafor and cap space to bring in talent via free agency – not to mention Julius Randle’s return next year.
If Howard was still here, the Lakers wouldn’t be a playoff team, would probably end up sending their pick to the Phoenix Suns and would have little-to-no flexibility to surround him with talent. They also wouldn’t have been bad enough to draft Randle last season. Sure, that’s a doomsday sequence of events, but one just as likely as things turning around with Howard’s faulty body holding up the franchise.
Losing Howard and getting nothing in return may be a near fireable offense by Mitch Kupchak. Though any talent brought in return might have marginally improved the team enough to take them out of the running for their draft pick, and they actually got this year’s first-round pick from Houston for taking Jeremy Lin in a trade.
If it already looks meek, though, what might it look like in that fifth year, when Howard is 33 years old and recovering from any other potential injury?
That’s not the Lakers’ problem, though.
Anthony F. Irwin is an NBA, NFL, MLB and NCAA Football contributor for Rantsports.com. Follow him on Twitter, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google. Send him an email at Anthony.F.Irwin@gmail.com.