No, it wasn’t the Lone Ranger, or even Dwight Howard in his Superman cape.
Laker fans didn’t get to see the fanciful side of Howard in one season, just his supposedly serious side as a professional basketball player, which was bad enough. Then, of course, there was his PR Disaster side, starting at his first press conference when he wouldn’t say anything as non-binding as, “I hope to stay.” He said that much the season before in Orlando... where he never intended to stay.
Friday he showed why it was a good idea to have shunned any commitment, turning his back on the banners, Jack Nicholson and the Laker Girls to become a Houston Rocket.
It’s true, turnabout is fair play and the Lakers, whose days or plundering go back to Wilt, were only about 20-30 years overdue for this. But give me this again? Howard just went through the longest (two years), most agonizing (ask anyone on the Laker and Magic beats) free agent experience ever... To wind up leaving $30 million on the table with the Lakers, who wanted to rebuild around him? To go to the Rockets – who are about to blow up their team to rebuild around them? While spurning the Warriors who already pack an armory full of firepower (Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, David Lee, Harrison Barnes)?
Howard will now play alongside budding great James Harden, promising Chandler Parsons and... We’ll have to get back to you on the rest. The Rockets are shopping Omer Asik for a power forward and Jeremy Lin for a better-shooting point guard, going from run-and-gun to the post offense they promised Howard.
Hey, a genius upside down is still a genius. In “Amadeus,” the brash, young Mozart is obliged to think of something nice to say about the composition of the court composer to whom he’s oblivious, Antonio Salieri. “One hears such sounds,” says Mozart, trying to think up something, “and what can one say but... Salieri!”
One watches one chase his tail for two seasons, destroying both teams he’s on... only to choose the second-best roster, the second-best tradition and the second-most money. What can one say but... Dwight!
Talk about your long-running farces:
October 2011: Howard asked the Magic to trade him to Brooklyn.
March 2012: Howard signs away his opt-out, committing himself to another season in Orlando.
June 2012: Howard asks to be traded to Brooklyn again.
July 2012: Howard is traded to the Lakers, who don’t seek any assurance from him. Being the Lakers has always been enough for them until now.
October 30 2012: Makes it back for opening night after back surgery the previous spring.
December 22 2012: Steve Nash, hurt in the second game, rejoins team.
January 23 2013: The Lakers fall to 17-25.
To the amazement of all, since Howard is a perennial leader on advanced stat breakdowns of pick-and-rollls, he can’t run them with Nash, whose sharpshooting makes him one of the greatest at it, ever. Dwight slips his picks. He’s not right physically. Oh, and his attitude is bad, too. He can’t even make the adjustments the coaches suggest to make the play work with Nash.
The Lakers finally start running it with Bryant – for whom Dwight sets solid screens... perhaps fearing Kobe may choke him otherwise.
February 17 2013: Howard does his Kobe imitation in the West dressing room before All-Star Game in Houston. Whether Dwight is kidding, West teammates take it as mocking Kobe – the take that spreads throughout the league like wild fire.
February 20 2013: Howard gets 24-12 in 113-99 win over Celtics. It’s the ninth game of the Lakers closing 28-12 run. Howard does a 180, becoming effusive in his praise of Bryant, even seeking him out for advice.
April 12 2013: Bryant blows out his Achilles in the third-to-last game. Whatever Kobe’s loss meant to Howard, it indisputably changed the equation.
Until then, the Lakers were the percentage move that insiders expected Howard to take, with the extra $30 million and a long tradition of excellence. Now, Howard was looking at a choice between, say, Houston, with Harden, at 23, vs. the Lakers with Bryant, soon to turn 35, coming off Achilles tendon surgery. And, sure enough, Howard was soon looking toward Houston.
With doubt in the press as Howard began meeting with teams, and scorn for the Lakers’ D12STAY billboards, Bryant, accompanying the Lakers at their presentation, presented Howard with a both-barrels-in-the chest challenge (“Let me teach you how to win.”)
Not that fans minded seeing someone stand up for the days when Wilt, Kareem, Shaq and Kobe, himself, sold themselves on the Lakers. If a manly invitation with perhaps just a soupcon of arrogance, ran Howard off, what was the point of having him here? If there’s a new power of as-yet-unknown dimension in Houston, the Lakers are no longer the Lakers, as we’ve known them.
Of course, they were two desultory seasons into that – Phil Jackson’s last and Mike Brown’s only one – before Howard came along... To finish them off, it turned out. In coming days, they’ll decide whether or not to amnesty Metta World Peace, showing if they’re now committed to excellence, or tanking. To take the sour grapes out of it, the Lakers wanted Howard. You win with great players, plural, so however high the maintenance, it’s better to add them than subtract them. As for Laker fans, memorable as their season with Howard was, they’re thankful it was only one.