This has happened before, right?
The Lakers have “lost” superstars before, right? Usually it has happened after they have given so much to the Lakers organization. What I mean by that is all-star appearances, rookie of the year awards, a couple of championships here or there, and maybe even a few years of coaching. Never have they “lost” a superstar during free agency the way they did a few nights ago. The franchise is in a state of disarray.
That’s looking at it from one side of the spectrum. The side I choose to look from is very different.
Dwight Howard never fit in as a Los Angeles Laker. Not from the moment he was traded to the organization, to the Adidas “All In for L.A. commercials”, to when he announced on Twitter that he was going to become a Houston Rocket. His interviews seemed forced, his 1,000 watt smile was never as powerful and commanding as it was in Orlando, and it always seemed that he was making light of whatever situation he was in. Very different from what the Lakers have been used to since the Big Aristotle or Cactus, Superman or… you get it, left town.
When I read Yahoo Sports NBA writer Adrian Wojnarowski’s latest, and maybe final, story on Dwight Howard announcing that he will become a Houston Rocket and leave the Lakers on July 10th it all came together. The reason why Howard did not fit the franchise is because he wanted it to fit him from day 1. Sorry Dwight, but that is not how things work here.
In late January when the team was in a rut there were reports about how the Lakers had a team meeting in Memphis where everything was aired out so they could all move past their difficulties. That’s not what really happened according to Wojnarowski.
Every time you trash me to teammates, it gets back to me, witnesses said Bryant told Howard in the visiting locker room of the FedEx Forum. Every time you do one of your impersonations when I walk out of the room, I find out. Everything tumbled out of Bryant, one grievance after another, and the Lakers coaches and players sat watching the two biggest personas in the room push closer together, or irreconcilably apart.
Around this time Dwight’s influence was beginning to take over the team and Kobe Bryant was not happy about it. In his mind there was no way that a player who was not dominating like he should csn come into the organization and overtake what he and countless other Lakers legends have built.
“Kobe talked to Dwight in a way that I don’t think anyone one had ever talked to him – not in Orlando, not here, not in his life, I’m betting,” one witness in the room told Yahoo! Sports. “He’s been coddled, and Kobe wasn’t going to coddle him.”
Despite what you may hear, this was not the driving issue as to why Dwight Howard left. He even stated himself that via Mike Bresnahan of the LA Times. The reason why he departed is due to the praise he did not receive in Los Angeles. You know, the type of praise that is given when you do good things like win consistently. If Howard is not adored by everyone then he will not perform like he should. It happened towards the end of his tenure with Orlando and it happened all year in Los Angeles.
“If he missed two big free throws in Orlando, it was forgotten in 30 minutes,” one league official with ties to Howard’s past says. “If he missed them in L.A., they talked about it for a week. With Dwight, he has to be the face of the franchise. Anything less than that, and it would be difficult for him to function at his highest level.”
“The conditions need to be lined up perfectly to get the most out of Dwight,” one team official who has history with Howard told Yahoo! Sports. “When he’s engaged, he can carry a team like few else in the league. Houston is suited for him.”
Now I will give Howard the credit he deserves. He came off of a possible career-ending surgery and still led the league in rebounds. My hat is off to him, no doubt whatsoever. But for the Lakers to essentially beg Howard to stay in Los Angeles is what did not sit well. He is a superstar that yes, could have become the future of the Lakers and the face for years to come, but he is not what or who the Lakers need to move forward.
To become the face of the Lakers franchise you must earn it. Point blank period.
George Mikan earned it. Elgin Baylor earned it. West and Chamberlain earned it. Kareem and Magic earned it. Kobe and Shaq earned it. Kobe and Pau earned it. They did not come into the franchise and expect for everyone to love them. They played through injuries, team chemistry issues, and even management problems all while working hard and eventually becoming champions.
The Lakers biggest mistake would have been convincing Howard to stay and he actually did. Do the Lakers need a superstar who needs to be handed everything in order to become great? If he could not take the criticism he was receiving all year long what do you think would have happened after Kobe, Pau, and Nash all retired?
With Dr. Buss’ passing and Jim Buss currently at the helm the Lakers cannot afford too many more mistakes as is. Resigning a superstar who would turn to the culture into a laughing stock would have been a mistake for them.
The Lakers have been through this before. The difference between now and then is that everyone wants results immediately. Give the Lakers time. Yes Kobe is pushing his 18th year in the league, yes Nash is going to be 40, and yes Pau Gasol just had his 33rd birthday but in due time it will be fine. If Baylor, Chamberlain, and West needed time so does this team.
What happened when George Mikan, the franchise’s first legitimate star left the franchise for good? They drafted Elgin Baylor. Two years, and one finals appearance for Elgin, later they drafted Jerry West.
What happened when Elgin was becoming older and the duo could not conquer the Celtics? They traded for Wilt Chamberlain. After Wilt retired in 1973 and Jerry hung up his shoes 19474, who was their savior? At seasons end of 1974 they traded for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Or how about when Kareem could not win a title alone?
In comes Magic. After Kareem retired and Magic states in 1996 that he wants to go out on his own terms, what happened? The Lakers trade for Kobe Bryant on draft day and sign Shaquille O’Neal almost two weeks later. Kobe starts to publicly look elsewhere to finish his career and the Lakers land Pau Gasol.
The Lakers have a clear history of doing whatever needs to be done to improve. Yes it may still sting that Dwight Howard told them no and chose to walk away. Best of luck to him. If he feels Houston is where he will succeed then by all means go. Yes, Jim Buss hired Mike D’Antoni when he could have had Phil Jackson, but don’t forget that he and Mitch pulled the deals to bring in Nash and Howard in the first place.
If there has ever been anything constant within the Lakers organization it has been that they are always a few moves away from being prominent once again. This is just another chapter in the Lakers history book. Rather than become frustrated and spiteful, let us just watch as they plan on making history again.