Waffling Dwight Howard finally made up his mind: he will leave the Lakers to sign with the Houston Rockets.
Houston offers numerous benefits: desirable city, no state tax, a young and uncluttered roster, a budding young superstar in James Harden, a coach who knows a thing or two about post play, and, perhaps most importantly, the chance to be the top dog without facing the media scrutiny and pressure to win that comes with being a Laker.
Alas, Dwight and the Lakers were never a good match. We all thought it would work just fine: Howard transforming LA’s defense, feasting on alley-oop lobs from Kobe, and forming the most formidable pick-and-roll partnership in the league with Steve Nash. When I spoke with Bill Simmons at the Olympics, we agreed that the Lakers were now overwhelming favorites to win the Western Conference. We were wrong.
In reality, Dwight proved to be an epic bust for health reasons both physical and mental. Coming off back surgery, his athleticism was not the same; he was not contesting shots and anchoring the defense the same way he had in Orlando and he lacked a second jump on offensive rebounds. Meanwhile he insisted on being used as a straight post-up player rather than a pick-and-roll finisher, eschewing his biggest strength on offense.
Lakers fans will not miss his childish antics or his passive-aggressive selfishness. They won’t miss his waving stat sheets in reporters’ faces, his smiling and giggling on the bench during tough losses, his ejections from playoff games, his undermining of the coaching staff. Howard’s confounding combination of a general lack of seriousness and a self-centered woe-is-me moodiness has made even Kobe’s socially retarded personality seem palatable to many long-time fans.
The Lakers’ 2012/13 season, in the words of Kevin Ding, was undermined chiefly by Howard’s “unwillingness to move beyond his own interests.” It was a taxing season for fans who had entered it with the same expectations as myself and Simmons. They won’t miss him, or the endless spandex covering up some combination of his shoulders, elbows and legs; “he looks disabled,” friend of the blog Rory Burnand memorably noted.
They won’t miss him demanding to receive more post touches so that he can do things like this:
They won’t miss him shooting airballs from three feet:
They won’t miss him passing the ball to opposing players out of double teams:
They won’t miss him committing moronic offensive goal-tending violations:
They won’t miss him stepping over the line before making an inbounds pass:
Evidently, this is a man with immense physical gifts but startlingly low basketball intelligence and a dithering, diva-ish personality that we have become all too familiar with in the past two years. This is a man who, in nine NBA seasons, has yet to develop a reliable post move or the ability to make consistently decent passes out of double teams. A man whose “go-to” jumphook displays the touch of a rapist. A man who cannot be given the ball late in close games due to his inability to shoot foul shots. A man who may very well have peaked three seasons ago at age 25.
In a LakersGround.net poll leading up to the decision, nearly two thirds of respondents stated they would rather acquire Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut in a sign-and-trade with the Warriors than commit five years and $118 million to Howard. Amongst fan responses when news of Dwight’s decision broke: “We dodged a bullet here” … “Good riddance, you cancerous disease” … “Paint your face, you clown” … “I’m just glad the Dwightmare is over” … and, of course, “Houston, you’ve got a problem.”
Dwight should rediscover his happiness in Texas. Lakers fans may have rediscovered a smidgen of theirs now that he has departed, but their franchise remains in a royal mess. What now for the purple and gold? And what to make of this bumbling front office which, despite arguably dodging a bullet in losing Howard, also lost a valued asset for nothing in return? In the coming weeks we will look in great detail at their recent failures and consider their prospects going forward (hint: they’re probably not very good).