In the midst of Los Angeles Lakers' revival, it's apparent that aside from Kobe Bryant's rejuvenating play, Dwight Howard and his renewed focus on the defensive end has been a propelling force in saving both the season and Howard's broken public image.
Furthermore, Howard has already been labeled a coach killer after running Stan Van Gundy out of Orlando. The early season dismissal of Mike Brown shortly after Howard's tenure with the Lakers began does little to dispel this label.
With his petty beef with the lovable Shaquille O'Neal still fresh in the public domain, it is obvious that Howard may have usurped LeBron James' position as public enemy number one. However, with the Lakers now playing some very inspired basketball, and with Howard regaining his defensive dominance, there is an opportunity to mend these broken fences.
With a push back to prominence, it appears as if Howard inadvertently took a harder route to contender status than he had back in his Orlando days.
The struggle against adversity and his eventual adaptation to the media spotlight—combined with Bryant's expectations—has done wonders in painting Howard in adifferent light.
Though he has taken strides in the right direction in terms of removing the villainous persona he has garnered, leaving the Lakers could tarnish his reputation forever.
Deep playoff run or not, Howard's desertion of the Lakers following this season would be cataclysmic because it would appear that he didn't have the mental strength and fortitude to tough out adversity and lead a team to a championship.
Howard jumped shipped in Orlando due to its inability to regain their 2008-09 form following Howard's lone trip to the NBA Finals.
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If he were to do so again if the Lakers don't win a championship he would be considered a quitter.
Furthermore, his game and his ability to be a cornerstone of any roster would be in question, given his inability to succeed despite being surrounded by talent.
Though it might not be fair for his reputation to hinge on whether or not he stays with the Lakers, his actions in Orlando and the inadvertent firing of Coach Brown—following Howard's contributions to Van Gundy's firing—have backed him into a corner. His image is predicated by his success with the Lakers.
Thus, for Howard to regain his status as one of the faces of the NBA, he has to tough in out in L.A., no matter what the outcome.
In short, for Howard to clean up his reputation, he has to become what he perceives himself to be.