Typing that is frustrating. It induces anxiousness. But it is also not surprising.
Granted, I did not think it would go this way. There were a lot of reasons why I believed what I did, but ultimately those don’t matter much right now. His decision is made and while it would be easy to try and find some sort of fault in his logic or try to defame his character for the choice he made, I will not do either. He made a choice that he thought was best for him and his career. Whether or not his decision will be validated with the reaching of his goals is something that only time will reveal, but he should know that the expectations that would have towered over him in Los Angeles to win at the highest level will follow him to Houston. Such is the reality of being one of the elite players in the sport.
But this is no longer about Dwight Howard. The focus shifts, now, to the Lakers and what this means for them and what they will do in response to losing a player of his magnitude.
In GM Mitch Kupchak’s statement, he noted that the Lakers “will now move forward in a different direction with the future of the franchise and, as always, will do our best to build the best team possible, one our great lakers fans will be proud to support.” What that looks like remains to be seen and how they go about achieving that is an open question that will take time to develop and patience to enact. There will be ups and downs in this process and it’s a guarantee that it won’t go smoothly at every interval.
There will also be disagreement with whatever approach is taken. There will be advocates for any and all strategies that have potential to get the team back to the top. There really aren’t any right answers in this quest. There is really only preference. This will lead to disagreements and hyperbolic statements and those thinking their way is best. But this is just noise.
The fact is, the hard path begins from a different spot than many would have hoped. The path to where the team wants to be will be one filled with questions and second guessing and a wondering if the goal is really even attainable. History tells us it will happen, but the new rules have been put in place, in part, to render history less meaningful.
I can say that I’m disappointed, but not devastated. Dwight Howard has proven to be a fantastic player in his career and those are the types of players you reach the mountain top with. The fact that he’s gone is meaningful just as it would be if he’d stayed. However, the fact is that having him guaranteed nothing. Hard work and good fortune would have been needed and without him that will still be the case.
There’s not a reasonable argument that the Lakers are better off without him in the short or immediate future. Down the line when he would have potentially been owed that extra $30 million that only the Lakers could offer (or when he opts out and wants another long term maximum extension) might have proved to be more complicated, but those are no longer issues the Lakers have to deal with. I’d be lying if I said I’d rather the Lakers didn’t have to make those hard choices, but I’d also be lying if I didn’t acknowledge that I anticipate them being hard ones. Especially if the team’s goals weren’t reached in the years leading up to having to make them.
But the Lakers are freed from that responsibility and with that comes a new set of hurdles to clear. Friday was a step back for the franchise and now they must prove they can get back on their feet and triumph once more. My guess is that they’ll be able to do it. In my lifetime, I’ve seen it too many times to doubt the final goal is somehow out of reach. I’d have liked it better if there was more certainty as the team embarks on this path, but in a way that uncertainty is what’s at the heart of sports. There are never any assurances, after all.
But, in the end, I’ll put my money on the Lakers to find a way. Even without Dwight Howard as one of the pillars.