Within the Los Angeles Lakers, there had been a belief that a late January team meeting in Memphis could've been the beginning of Dwight Howard's future with the franchise, or merely the beginning of the end. No restraints, no mercy, no holding back. Kobe Bryant had climbed into Howard in a way that was startling, sobering, a moment of penetrating and unpleasant truths
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.
Bryant had come to rage against the idea that Howard's clownish disposition could overtake the locker room, the Lakers' culture, and had warned Howard that he would never, ever let it happen. He hated it with Shaquille O'Neal, but Shaq performed on a championship plane for the Lakers and delivered a disposition to dominate on the floor.
"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 Howard's recuperation from his back injury, few believed he had been playing with the proper passion and purpose – not the coaches, not the players, not opponents – and those within the Lakers understood Howard's most rebellious weapon was never confrontation, but holding back on the court.
There were bigger issues than Bryant and Howard in the room, but everyone understood that this meeting – first reported in the Los Angeles Times – had been about the two superstars, about the tension that had been building with the losing, about the push and pull between selling Howard on staying a Laker, or begging him.
In the end, Kobe Bryant didn't chase Dwight Howard out of Los Angeles, nor did Mike D'Antoni, nor did anyone in the employ of the franchise. The Lakers weren't for Howard, and Howard wasn't for the Lakers. Every executive and coach who has ever worked with Howard will tell you: He needs to be the face of the franchise and he needs unconditional love. Those weren't immediately available to him with the Lakers, and they'll be showered upon him in Houston now.
"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."
In every way, the Houston Rockets are perfectly suited for Howard. He's 27 years old and needs to start competing for championships. He wants to be the biggest star in the franchise, and he gets it. He wants to be the biggest personality in the room, and he becomes it. He wants to play for a Hall of Fame big man, he says, and he has been afforded that with Kevin McHale.
"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."
Rockets general manager Daryl Morey conceived and executed an impeccable plan, gutting his roster, drafting undervalued prospects with low picks (Chandler Parsons), signing undervalued players (Patrick Beverley), snagging restricted free agents with toxic offer sheets (Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin) and assembling the assets to make a trade for a star guard (James Harden).
Edited by MDI, July 06, 2013 - 10:41 PM.