Before the Lakers played the Wizards last week, I answered a few questions for Wizards’ site Truth About It in the lead up to that game. It was mostly about the young players and my feelings in the aftermath of Kobe’s retirement announcement. One question, though, was about my three favorite Kobe “moments” from his career. I thought long and hard on that question and ultimately offered up this answer:
Archives For Dwight Howard
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.
UDATE #2: It’s official. Dwight Howard has informed the Lakers that he will not re-sign with the team and will instead play for the Rockets. Here’s a statement from GM Mitch Kupchak:
“We have been informed of Dwight’s decision to not return to the Lakers. Naturally we’re disappointed. However, we 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. To Dwight, we thank him for his time and consideration, and for his efforts with us last season. We wish him the best of luck on the remainder of his NBA career.”
UPDATE: Everything written in the post below this update may end up being true. So, just remember that when you read this next sentence: Dwight Howard is, reportedly, having second thoughts about signing with the Rockets and is set to land in L.A.
to speak with GM Mitch Kupchak where he may or may not have a meeting with Lakers’ brass before making his final decision. According to Chris Broussard of ESPN, Dwight is having concerns about leaving the guaranteed 5th year and $30 million in salary on the table from the Lakers in favor of what the Rockets can offer. It is said to be a “50-50” race between the Lakers and the Rockets at this point. If you find all of this confusing or frustrating, you’re not alone. Hopefully we get a final word on this soon so that this entire fiasco can come to an end.
This is a tough one to stomach considering what the Lakers lose in terms of building for the future. The 2012-13 Lakers season was one of the most bewildering in recent memory. Mitch went out and fielded a conjectural super team, but injuries, a coaching change and Dwight Howard’s free-agency quietly following the Lakers everywhere they traveled like the ghosts in Super Mario — and every time we stopped to turn around and looked at may happen — it just covered its eyes and ignored the situation.
At some point, the situation had to be addressed. He was asked about his impending free agency in his exit interview and informed the world that he was going to need some time to decide. Then earlier this week, the Rockets, Lakers and a few other teams made a pitch for Howard’s services. Howard told the teams he’d head to Colorado and mull over his options and decide by Friday. And a decision was made, and was first reported by USA Today’s Sam Amick.
— Sam Amick (@sam_amick) July 5, 2013
The Lakers, who had an extra year and $30 million to offer Howard, were spurned by the big man in news that isn’t exactly shocking, but flummoxing, to say the least. The Lakers have always been one of those teams who get their guy, and they’ve had more success off the strength of great centers than any other team in the association.
Nonetheless, we’re entering an era of Lakers basketball that we’ve been unfamiliar with for the past 15 years. The team, as currently constructed, is going to be good enough to win some games and maybe compete for the 6th through 8th seeds in the playoffs, but this may be a team too good to acquire high draft picks, hoops purgatory, if you will.
It’ll be fascinating to see where the Lakers go from here. Their plan to have an abundance of cap space in the summer of 2014 has not been compromised, so all is not lost, but losing Howard is a huge hit to this team’s ability to lure the league’s top free agents. We’ll have more analysis about what this means for the Lakers soon.
The meetings are over. Over the span of three days, Dwight Howard and his team of decision makers sat through presentations of five teams — the Rockets, Hawks, Warriors, Mavericks, and Lakers — about why he should accept their offer of large amounts of cash and various other incentives and play for their organizations. Dwight has now retreated to Colorado for a few days to consider his options and make a decision.
There are many variables to consider when making this choice, but reports from early in this process state that Dwight’s biggest concern is winning at the highest level. He’s already been the to Finals once and would like to return several times over and, when he does, claim the trophy that eluded him in 2009. So, while media exposure (both domestic and foreign), money, and many other lifestyle factors will play a part in all this, Dwight’s decision will supposedly come down to basketball reasons.
When zooming in and focusing on what matters between the lines of that 94′ x 50′ hardwood, the consensus seems to be that the Rockets offer Dwight the best chance to accomplish his career goals. These plusses have been discussed multiple times, but the Cliff Notes version is that the Rockets have a young superstar in James Harden, a roster of good (and young) complementary pieces, a smart GM who knows how to fill out a roster, and a head coach who was once a fantastic low post player to help Dwight develop that part of his game further (while, supposedly, running an offense to highlight that part of his game). These things are mostly all true, though some of them have been embellished slightly (more on that later).
The Lakers, meanwhile, are portrayed differently. They’re seen as old and not as talented. They’re seen as a team that can’t offer Dwight the role he wants on offense, and a team that lacks the defensive players to thrive on that side of the floor. The Lakers are billed as the team selling a combination of the past (“we’re the Lakers“) and the future (cap space in just one more year!), rather than the team that can win now. There’s some truth in this but, like the Rockets’ case, these negatives have also been embellished somewhat.
Free agency begins in earnest at midnight Eastern, 9pm PST today. Teams will reach out to the players they covet, schmoozing will commence, and decisions will, eventually, be made.
For the Lakers, the biggest priority is what happens with Dwight Howard. Let’s summarize what we know to this point:
*Dwight plans to meet with at least 5 teams. The Rockets, Mavericks, Hawks, Warriors and the Lakers.
*The Rockets will be first, flying into Los Angeles to meet with Dwight tonight at the crack of free agency. They plan to bring
the entire city of Houston their owner Les Alexander, GM Darryl Morey, head coach Kevin McHale, Hakeem, Clyde Drexler, James Harden, and Chandler Parsons.
*The Mavericks will supposedly get first crack on Monday, followed by meetings with the other, non-Lakers, teams.
*The Lakers, at their request, will go last in this process. Likely meeting with Dwight on Tuesday.
*The latest reports out of Dwight’s camp are that winning is the most important thing to him and that there is no “favorite” in the process at this point. He’s said to have an open mind towards the teams and that he wants to gather information to make the best decision in terms of where he can win multiple championships.
*That latest report also states that Dwight will not ask the Lakers to fire Mike D’Antoni with hints that even if he did ask, the Lakers wouldn’t move on from their head coach.
With all this in mind, let’s quickly handicap the race. Of the 5 suitors, I think it’s easiest to eliminate the Hawks and the Warriors from the top tier of contenders at this early stage. The Hawks are furthest away from being a contending team and it’s been reported before that Dwight isn’t keen on playing in his hometown. As for the Warriors, they don’t have the cap space to sign Dwight outright and would need the Lakers to participate in a sign and trade for then to acquire him. This doesn’t mean that can’t happen down the road, but being that the Lakers would have to agree to make this deal it puts them on the back burner for now, and potentially for this entire process. What’s more likely with the Warriors is that they’re in this mix to show that they’re a FA destination down the line and it likely means more to them to even get this meeting as a signal to the league that they’re for real heading into next summer rather than a meaningful grab for Howard’s services.
This leaves the Rockets, Mavs, and Lakers. All have their pros and cons, and I think it can go either way between any of them.
The Mavs actually have a similar situation to offer as the Lakers: they have an aging franchise anchor, an owner willing to spend on a winner, and cap space galore coming up within the next couple of seasons. This has its appeals, but to be honest, they’re likely 3rd in this race unless Dwight really loves Dallas as a city and/or Cuban as an owner and/or the idea of playing for Rick Carlisle (which are all possible).
The Rockets, meanwhile offer a young roster with an up and coming star player and solid role players to complement. Their cap situation will be cleaner in the summer of 2015 when Asik and Lin’s contracts come off the books and they’ll need to renounce/waive/trade some talented players (one or more of Carlos Delfino, Aaron Brooks, Francisco Garcia, Thomas Robinson) to get far enough under the cap to offer a full max contract. This is a very good basketball situation for Howard, but I think it’s being oversold somewhat as a place where the Rockets are so much better off from a talent standpoint than other teams. What they have are young players that can grow with Dwight by their side. But last season they were the 8th seed and will actually lose some of the contributors who made achieving at that level possible. They have a ton of plusses, but at this point some of those are being oversold.
As for the Lakers, we know what they have to offer. Of all the teams they have the best history of success, offer the best market, and the most money/longest contract. The last point is mitigated somewhat by the fact it’s believed Dwight will opt out of whatever contract he signs in the next two weeks in order to secure another max deal in either 3 or 4 seasons. This makes the financial difference in contracts much less. However, what’s not being mentioned often enough is that if Dwight really does opt out, the Lakers can pay him a max extension just like any other team he signs with so there’s not a benefit of moving on in that scenario. Also, there’s the point that, in the past, the Lakers have made balloon salary payments to superstar players up front. This type of payment can be banked by the player in order accrue interest that can then offset the higher state taxes in California. I’ve read that the Lakers have done this for Shaq and for Kobe. It’s quite possible they’d do it for Dwight as well.
In essence, I still believe this comes down to the Lakers or the Rockets. Which way he leans after this process is done will come down to factors that, even if we believe the reports about winning, only Dwight will truly know. I’m still very hopeful he signs with the Lakers. We’ll know for sure within the next 10 days.
Dwight, of course, isn’t the only relevant news. The Lakers still need help on the wing and, potentially, in the back court heading into next season. Consider the following:
*On Saturday, the Lakers waived Chris Duhon to save on his salary for next season. By waiving him, the Lakers pay him only $1.5 million of the $4 million he was owed.
*As we’ve mentioned, the Lakers didn’t make qualifying offers Darius Morris, Andrew Goudelock, or Devin Ebanks. I don’t expect any of them to be back next year, though that could change.
*Earl Clark is an unrestricted free agent. He’s said he wants to return to the Lakers and even hinted he’d take less money to do so, but he will have suitors on the open market and typically the money wins out in those situations.
*Antawn Jamison is an unrestricted free agent and there’s a good chance he doesn’t return.
Without those 6 players (and potentially Dwight Howard), the Lakers only have Nash, Kobe, Ron, Pau, Hill, Blake, Meeks, and Sacre under contract. That’s 8 players. Typically the Lakers carry either 13 or 14 on their roster. They need bodies to fill out this team and hopefully some ones that fill specific needs.
Of those needs, the biggest is help on the wing in the form of defense and/or shooting (and preferably both). There are players who check off one or both of these boxes including Kyle Korver, Dorell Wright, Corey Brewer, OJ Mayo, Nick Young, Marco Belinelli, Francisco Garcia, Carlos Delfino, Matt Barnes, Tony Allen, Mike Dunleavy, Ronnie Brewer, JR Smith, JJ Redick, Wes Johnson, Martell Webster, and several others. Some of these guys will be in the Lakers’ price range. Some will be way beyond it. The market will sort these things out and there will be options.
What I’m interested in seeing is the timing in which the Lakers try to fill these needs. Dwight is the big fish and typically that means he will be the first domino to fall in the Lakers’ equation. Plus, when it comes to lower tiered FA’s like those the team will be looking for there’s typically not a lot of harm in waiting to sign one (or more) of them. That said, the Lakers don’t meet with Dwight until Tuesday and there’s something to be said for trying to acquire one of your targets early, especially if that player could help make the team better (which in turn could help in the recruiting of Dwight).
Ultimately, though, we’ll know a lot more in the next few days. Sit tight, the ride will probably be a wild one.
The Los Angeles Lakers are pulling out all the stops when it comes to keeping free agent center Dwight Howard. They even have the hashtag, #STAYD12, for this campaign.
The Lakers put up a banner at Staples Center. Then they highlighted Kobe Bryant’s quote about Dwight Howard. There were billboards for him (such as the one on Hollywood Blvd.). There was a photoshopped pic of the legendary Beverly Hills Hotel with Dwight Howard’s jersey on it. And then earlier today, there was this. It’s safe to say that there will be more of this to come.
What does FB&G think of this interesting courtship? Five of us each answer five questions about this.
Did it surprise you that the Lakers went on this route?
REY MORALDE: I am. This is unprecedented. The Lakers, while a very public sports franchise, usually have a quiet confidence in them when it comes to… negotiating with their own free agents. But then everything within the last season has been unprecedented itself with the excessive injuries and the Lakers being buried in the weight of their own expectations. Still, this is so weird to me.
ZEPHID: Absolutely not. At this point, it’s pretty clear that plans A through Y are to re-sign Dwight, and any edge they can get, I believe they will take. Whether it be the billboard, or any other crazy huge sign, the Lakers FO will put up anything that will serve as an attention grabber for people (especially Dwight). Perhaps some would want the Lakers to have an air of superiority when it comes to free agents, given the general expectation that all FA’s want to sign with the Lakers. However, I see no harm in making it clear (abundantly so) that the Lakers want Dwight back.
DAVE M.: Not at all although it would’ve been awesome if the BH hotel pic was not photoshopped. This isn’t about the purity of sports or shame or pandering or whatever some think it is. Wasn’t this franchise built on Showtime? As if management would actually not let their PR staff do the job they’re paid to do?
PHILLIP BARNETT: It did a bit. We’re not accustomed to the Lakers as an organization having to sell themselves to a particular player. With the roles reversed, it’s fascinating to see billboards in the city asking Howard to stay with the team despite the fact that it may seem like a calculated ploy to save face incase he leaves. As a fan, I appreciate the effort from the team as they’re, at the very least, making it seem like they’re doing everything they can to field a quality basketball team — but I am surprised that it had to come to this.
RYAN COLE: I am certainly surprised. All my life I’ve never really known the Lakers to be in a position where they seriously had to sell themselves, as well as the city of Los Angeles to a superstar. I must admit it was pretty strange to see the giant billboard riding Figueroa, but at this point, the priority of the franchise is to retain Dwight at all costs. If this is part of the plan, I like it, as opposed to some Laker fans.
Do you think the Lakers would’ve done this if their free agent was another player (ex. Chris Paul, Tim Duncan)?
REY: Nope. I don’t know of any other star that would want billboards, candies, and that kind of pampering from a team like that. I think if someone like CP3 and Duncan received that kind of treatment from the Lakers, they would be a little freaked out. I do understand this is necessary for someone like Dwight but it just doesn’t feel right coming from the 16-time champs. It’s like Friday night dinners at the Gilmores.
ZEPHID: I think so. It’s difficult to say because this type of tactic clearly plays to Dwight’s indecisive side, since I doubt someone as cutthroat as CP3 or as stoic as Duncan would be swayed by such a frivolous message. However, I have no doubt that if CP3 were a Laker, the FO would do anything and everything to keep him. If they felt a sign would help, I think they would have done it.
DAVE: Sure, depending on the star. You’ve got to tailor your approach. Dwight loves attention, you’ve got to play into making him feel wanted, and wanted by the right people. Personally, I’d put him in a room with Phil. He’s not going to be your coach but he could be a guy behind the curtain. Not that he’d want to stay behind the curtain. Phil likes attention, too. That brings up a whole other can of worms.
PHILLIP: I don’t think so. Howard is one of those guys who seems like he has a need to be needed. He’s shown before that he can be fickle in his decisions, and he can be leaning toward one team today, another tomorrow. If Howard wants to be wooed, the Lakers have to woo him. I don’t think this would have been necessary for other guys, however. Most superstars want to know that you’re going to pay them and build a quality team around them, for Howard, it’s a bit more complicated.
RYAN: I do not, but this is what comes with the territory in trying to retain a superstar like Dwight Howard. He needs to feel wanted not only by the Lakers, but by the city of Los Angeles. Dwight’s image has taken a huge hit in the public eye over the last year, so to assure him that he is wanted is the smartest thing to do.
How would you feel if Dwight Howard ended up leaving the Lakers?
REY: I wouldn’t feel too sad about it. The guy carried baggage from Orlando and it’s tough to be a fan of someone that acted so petulantly. However, I know what Dwight brings to the table when healthy and if he did leave, I would only think of all the what-if scenarios. What if he actually just agreed to be the roll man for the pick and roll? What if he just accepted his role as the #2 guy until Kobe Bryant retired?
ZEPHID: Resigned. As in accepting our fate, not as in re-sign (pet peeve). Without a doubt, Dwight leaving would be the end of the short-term Lakers’ championship window. No way a team with an aging Pau, Nash, and Kobe can compete for a title. But is it the end of the world? Certainly not, because the Laker machine will keep on churning no matter what happens. Some have openly talked about tanking to hit the 2014 lottery (shoutouts to @DrewGarrisonSBN and @brosales12 at SS&R), which in my mind isn’t the WORST idea, but I think it’s a tough one to swallow for those who value winning and effort. However, if Dwight does leave, I see the Lakers FO blowing up the roster, trading Pau and Nash for youth and hopefully picks, making the roster so shallow on talent that it wouldn’t have to tank to get a high lottery pick. Given everyone’s general excitement for the 2014 draft and the ability to go after a big time free agent (like LeBron or Melo), this would be the easiest way to rebuild quickly. However, the only flaw in this plan is it effectively cuts off Kobe’s last chance to get a championship, and it’s difficult to see the Lakers FO abandoning that possibility after all Kobe has done for the team.
DAVE: I’d be disappointed but I’m not sure it’s the end of the world. If anything the past year should show us that. The team needs a system and a direction they can all buy into. Plus overall health. I’m not sure there’s any single element more important than that. Mitch has been finding ways to field teams through challenging circumstances for a few years now. Regardless of the cap, I don’t see him throwing up a white flag and tanking a season. Same goes for Kobe, naturally.
PHILLIP: Conflicted. During his short tenure in Los Angeles, Howard has never felt like a member of the Lakers to me. While I understand that these sort of things typically take time with new members of the organization, it hadn’t taken a full season for me to buy into other free agent pick-ups or guys brought in via trade. Pau immediately felt like a Laker when he was brought in. Same with Ron, Steve Blake and, to an lesser extent, Nash. Howard had this summer hanging over the season like a rain cloud and the Forum Blue and Gold he wore seemed akin to a mirage.
RYAN: From a basketball standpoint, I’d feel sorry for the Lakers next season. Dwight leaving would certainly put the stamp on a lost season, especially with the uncertainty of Kobe’s return date. From a personal standpoint, I’d be understanding of Dwight’s decision and have no ill feelings against him. He has the right to leave being that he is a free agent. He’s not entitled to the Lakers, and should not feel as if he is. The city of Los Angeles is not for everyone, as well as the pressures that come with having to perform in a Laker uniform.
How would you feel if Dwight ended up re-signing?
REY: Hooray, I guess. Again, I would still have my reservations because Dwight can be so wishy-washy. Even if he signed that full five-year max deal, I would wonder how long before he would become unhappy again. But I do think Dwight is a guy that can keep the Lakers on top even if most of the team is approaching Methuselah’s age; at his peak, he can defensively dominate a game.
ZEPHID: Curious. Dwight is definitely the big piece, but a team of Dwight, an aging Pau, Nash, and Kobe is still only an outside shot at winning a championship. It would be after this coming season, in Summer 2014, that things get interesting, as only Nash and Howard (should he re-sign) would be under contract as of now, leaving plenty of cap space to pursue the aforementioned superstars. Without a superstar to flank Howard, the Lakers would then become a lesser version of the 2009 Orlando Magic, which would be a surefire way to tread water but never attain a championship. So pretty much, regardless of what Dwight does, it will be Summer 2014 that will shape the destiny of the Lakers in the years to come.
DAVE: I would be good with it but I also want him to be good with the coach because I don’t think that position changes this year.
PHILLIP: On the flip side to my previous answer, I know bringing Howard back would be in the best interest of the team in terms of on the court play. What he does on either side of the floor simply won’t be replaced by any other (available) person in the NBA, and that’s a tough pill to swallow considering Kobe’s championship window, which is closing at an alarming rate. I wouldn’t be jumping for joy with Howard coming back, but it would give me peace of mind that at least part of Mitch and Jim’s plan for the future is in place.
RYAN: I think Howard re-signing ensures that the Lakers will have a franchise player moving forward, so in that aspect I’d be happy for the franchise. Howard is by far the best center in basketball and there are so many things that Dwight does on the basketball court that simply can’t be replicated, so it’s obvious why the Lakers are taking such measures to convince him to stay. Personally, I’m not the guy that’s going to go running through the streets leaping for joy if he stays, but I’ll be content with knowing that the future of the Lakers is in tact.
In one word, what do you think of the #StayD12 campaign overall?