Saturday, July 6, 2013

Dwight Howard's Departure

Less than a year after it began, the Dwight Howard era of the Los Angeles Lakers has come to a close.

Yesterday marked the end of an era for the Los Angeles Lakers. Less than a year after he was signed, Dwight Howard has decided to leave the Lakers for the Houston Rockets.

Most Lakers fans I know, including myself, really aren't too surprised. Indeed, as seen on the popular fan site Lakersground.net, the majority of Lakers fans couldn't care less about Dwight leaving for the Rockets. What this reveals is the love-hate relationship we Lakers fans have had with this pseudo superman ever since he signed with us last August.

It is true that most Lakers fans hated the cocky, aloof Andrew Bynum and were pleased when Dwight waltzed in to take his place. But it was also clear that Dwight never had a great amount of chemistry with anybody on our team. Kobe had a much better relationship with Pau, and even Steve Nash, the former Suns MVP who was the Lakers' other big free agent signing last year, than he ever did with Dwight. And really, it's this disconnection between Dwight and the rest of the team that defined his time with us.

Dwight never really seemed to fit in all that well. He wasn't able to handle being option 1B to Kobe's 1A. He never really tried to execute Mike D'Antoni's offense on the court, as made evident by the flimsy screens he often set on pick and roll plays. Much of the blame must be placed on Coach D'Antoni of course for not creating an offense to fit his player's strengths, but Dwight should have at least tried to make it work, much like Kobe did when he went on that insane assist streak in the middle of last season.

Somehow, Dwight's injuries and attitude prevented him from playing well with Steve Nash, a guy who is going to be a Hall of Famer one day due to his ability to make other players better. It was rather disappointing to see how Howard frequently fumbled Nash's interior passes while also having what looked to be, overall, poor chemistry with the two time MVP.

Most talking heads on ESPN are praising Dwight for his decision. They say it was logical, as Houston is rising while the Lakers are declining. Indeed, they say that Houston's coach Kevin McHale will implement an offense that actually uses Dwight to his full potential, unlike D'Antoni, which is another plus in their minds.

While a convincing argument, it is important not to become too indoctrinated by this media driven narrative. The fact of the matter is that the Lakers didn't have too bad of a future themselves had Dwight stayed. They still had Nash, Kobe, and Gasol, three hall of fame players who are all pretty darn good when healthy. A core of Nash, Kobe, Gasol, and Dwight could have easily made waves next year given a full training camp and a clean bill of health.

Even if that group failed again, the Lakers had a huge amount of cap space going into 2014. They could have reloaded by signing a couple more superstar level players to pair with Dwight, which in all likelihood would have led to a championship. With Kobe on the decline and looking for more rings, it's entirely likely that he would have taken a massive pay cut so that the Lakers could sign the best players possible. What that means is that for the 2014-2015 season, the Lakers could have had Kobe, Dwight, and two more superstar level players signed to max contracts.

As it stands, Dwight's current team has a decent future in itself, though one that is not as great as ESPN would have you believe. Indeed, beyond James Harden, there really isn't anyone else on that team that I would call a real impact player during the playoffs. Jeremy Lin is still all hype, and Chandler Parsons is just a good role player a la Danny Green of the Spurs.

So why did Dwight leave LA, the bright lights, and $30 million on the table to go to Houston? Did he hate Mike D'Antoni that much? Dislike Kobe's mentality? Not like the pressure of playing for LA? Did he not appreciate the fan base's growing disdain for his indecision?

We won't know the definitive answer for at least another few years, when either Dwight or someone close to him feels that enough time has passed to reveal the true story.

What is certain though is that despite Dwight's departure from LA, there is still hope for the Lakers.

Even when they are down, it is tough to bet against the purple and gold. If history proves anything, they'll be back at the top again soon enough.

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