Here is a crazy thought. What if Dwight Howard just doesn’t like Los Angeles? What if Howard follows the advice given to every prospective employee? Namely, go find a job that you enjoy because in the end, a higher salary won’t buy career satisfaction.
In some ways, you have to be an L.A. transplant to understand this. No one loves Los Angeles like Angelinos. In other words, despite what some Southlanders might think, the rest of the country is not dying to live in Los Angeles.
The assumption amongst many fans is that, Howard would obviously want to be with the Lakers. After all, it’s the Lakers. We can debate about whether the Lakers or Celtics are the most storied franchise is all of basketball, but I think it is fair to say that no other franchise has accomplished what those two teams have done over the years.
Perhaps that legacy is intriguing to Dwight, but perhaps it is intimidating. Can Howard ever live up to the legacy that has been created by Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jerry West, and Kobe Bryant? Even Shaquille O’Neal, who was not exactly a career Laker, contributed to three championships.
That is a tough act to follow.
As fans, we love to play behavioral psychologist and analyze the personalities of players. We do not have qualifications to make these types of clinical assessments, but we do it anyway. So, here is mine.
Like many professional athletes, Dwight Howard has grown up being adored, admired and idolized by people around him. He likes the attention. He wants to be loved and courted. Obviously he is not unique in this regard. Lots of athletes are this way.
Howard is entering that unique free-agent period where he is the coveted athlete on the market. He will be wined, dined and chased.
What if Dwight does not truly feel loved by L.A.? After all, this is still Kobe’s town, even with a torn Achilles and an uncertain future. Kobe certainly has his haters, but there is also a bevy of fans in this city who will idolize him forever. Howard should have figured out by now that Kobe is not exactly going to give Superman a lot of love.
Howard gives the impressions (playing psychologist again) that he wants to be “the man” on his team. As long as Kobe is here, Dwight will not be the man. What if Kobe comes back next year, feels re-energized, and decides that he wants to sign an extension?
Second fiddle...again: Dwight Howard.
Some fans might wonder if players would leave money on the table in order to find better love somewhere else. Remember, these are still people. We tend to put them up on a pedestal and assume that all of their decisions are financially-motivated, but five years in Los Angeles might seem like an eternity for Dwight Howard.
There is, of course, the issue of being a championship-caliber squad. Some fans will argue that if Howard wants a championship, Los Angeles may give him the best chance.
Here again, some Lakers fans assume that the purple and gold just automatically provides a default road to the playoffs every year. Financially, the Lakers are not in good shape. Kobe’s contract and the luxury tax implications will give this franchise no room to maneuver. Add in Pau Gasol’s contract and Howard’s potential max deal and the Lakers will only have the flexibility to add veteran’s minimums.
Remember, the Lakers have no draft picks. If Pau gets traded and Kobe retires after next season, the Lakers would have a lot more cap flexibility.
However, at that point the Lakers might have to (gasp) rebuild.
Obviously this is a more pessimistic perspective, but it is not so farfetched to suggest that Dwight Howard could spend the first few years of his contract living through the final decline of the Kobe era and the difficult task of picking up the pieces. Sure, the Lakers will always draw someone to the City of Angels. Still, the Lakers might not be a true contender for a few years.
Dwight Howard has a decision to make. If it is about the money and the biggest market, Los Angeles is the obvious choice. However, if Dwight isn’t happy and would take less money in exchange for a better office environment, he could conceivably walk away.
Of course, according to Ramona Shelburne of ESPN, Howard could always sign with the Los Angeles Clippers:
Stay tuned. It will be an interesting summer.