Once upon a time, it was a curious assertion that any marquee free agent would walk away from a $120 million contract for a $90 million one. It was downright stupid that any star wouldn't want to be paid the former amount to play for the Los Angeles Lakers under the bright lights of Hollywood, living in one of the world's premier cities and sports markets.
And yet, here's where L.A. might be with Dwight Howard. He has the chance to immortalize himself with one of the most successful and undoubtedly most iconic franchises in NBA history, make the most money while playing with one of the five greatest players ever and capitalize on the spoils of Hollywood, potentially augmenting his "famous athlete" designation to "famous athlete and actor."
The fact that he's ostensibly considering not diving headfirst into those responsibilities means that Dwight Howard should take his ball and go home, home being Houston. And Laker Nation shouldn't think twice about it.
This is a city that doesn't settle for second best. Sixteen championships, 31 conference titles, 23 division titles, the record-holder for the league's longest winning streak and 16 Hall of Famers, which includes Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Jerry West.
Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal will undoubtedly be added to that list whenever they are eligible, and you can make a good argument for any of those players being a top-10 or 15 player in NBA history. Laker Nation defines a season's success on whether or not you raise a banner.
If that isn't your No. 1 prerogative as the highest-paid superstar or it doesn't seem like you can be the catalyst to propel the Lakers to victory? Then there's no point in having you.
Perhaps Shaq said it best during Inside the NBA. To paraphrase, Shaq didn't think Howard was going to come back to Los Angeles. According to him, he should've "signed a week earlier," and "he didn't need to think about it." He's completely, 100 percent correct.
The Lakers are a first-class organization, and if you want to flirt with other teams and continue to create this "Dwightmare" that you started in Orlando, then they don't want you.
You don't choose the purple and gold. It chooses you. And in particular, the Lakers calibrate their teams around accomplished and legendary big men, like the men who were mentioned above. Even his present teammate, Pau Gasol, has two rings from playing alongside Bryant.
I get that he's still relatively young, and I'm not saying that it is impossible that he will reach his 2009 form, when he dragged a half-decent at best Magic team past LeBron James and the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals, where they lost to the Lakers. But as some have pointed out, history doesn't favor big men who suffer random drop-offs in the middle of their career, whether it involves an injury or not.
To put it simply, the overwhelming odds are that if the Lakers give Dwight $118 million for the next five years, what we saw this year is what we're going to see for five years. What could change for the better? It's not like Mike D'Antoni can find a better way to use him; big men who have no post moves, can't run the pick-and-pop game, shoot terrible free throws and don't run the floor hard have never flourished in his system.
Furthermore, when a superstar receives superstar dollars, it's not just an investment, it's a message. For example, the message for a young guy coming off of his rookie deal and then getting a max deal worth $60 million for four to five years says, "We're going to build around you for the next couple of years unless you get hurt, and you're an untouchable trade piece."
For Dwight, giving him this money says, "We expect you to be the next great Laker big man, like a Shaq, Kareem, or a Wilt."
It's abundantly clear that this guy doesn't like pressure, or expectations, and he cares way too much about what other people or the media think of him. He has no leadership qualities whatsoever and has never, ever come up big in an important game.
The biggest games of his life were probably the 2009 Finals and the 2008 Olympic gold medal game. In the former, he never led his team in scoring in any of the five Finals games even as guys like Gasol (not the greatest defender) and D.J. Mbenga were checking him. In the latter, he almost fouled out and got horribly and humiliatingly outplayed by the Gasol brothers.
The list of meltdowns continue beyond the court. He flip-flopped about a million times before saying he'd stay in Orlando, ultimately waiving his right to become a free agent. Subsequently, he told management he wanted Stan Van Gundy fired, then claimed he didn't. He alienated his team and the Magic fanbase and left management completely hanging. What happened after that in the offseason? He asked to be traded again.
Can somebody try to remind me why L.A. wants a guy who wants all the perks of being a superstar but not the burden of delivering any of the goods a superstar gives a team? Can anyone tell me why, of all franchises, the Los Angeles Lakers should subject themselves to the media circus that is Dwight Howard?
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