July 10th, 2013 will go down as a tough day in the history of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Because, according to Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register, that's when the Lakers will bid farewell to Metta World Peace:
OK, so maybe Metta won't be the most noteworthy departure from Lakerland this week. That title belongs firmly to Dwight Howard, who's set to spurn the Lakers' overtures for a new start with the Houston Astros...errr, I mean, the Houston Rockets. With Howard will go L.A.'s hopes (however slim) for immediate title contention and, perhaps, for a smooth transition into the post-Kobe Bryant era, at least from a talent standpoint.
In that sense, losing Howard hurts far more than watching Metta's $7.7 million salary (and the $13.8 million saved therein, per Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times) slide off the Lakers' cap figures. Simply put, the Purple and Gold were going to stink next season in Howard's absence, whether the team kept MWP around or not.
But, as far as sentiment is concerned, there's no question which severing of ties will hurt more, as Ramona Shelburne of ESPN Los Angeles noted:
For Lakers fans, watching World Peace play for the New York Knicks (via Jared Zwerling of ESPN New York) or retire (per Adam Zagoria of SNY.tv) will tug at more heartstrings in L.A. than will any sight of Dwight throwing down in a red Rockets uniform.
And not just because MWP's four years as a Laker dwarfed Dwight's one. What matters more is what World Peace accomplished in his time with the Lakers compared to Howard's single-calendar contributions to the NBA's marquee franchise.
Statistically speaking, there's no question as to which player had the splashier impact. In his one year as a Laker, Howard averaged nearly twice as many points (17.1 to 9.9) and more than three times as many rebounds per game (12.4 to 4.0) as did Metta in his four years in L.A. Howard also converted 17.5 percent more of his field-goal attempts, albeit due to a decidedly more interior-oriented distribution.
Thing is, the true success of any Laker's stay isn't measured by points scored or rebounds collected, but rather by playoff games won and championship trophies brought home.
In that case, Metta tops Howard without contest. The Lakers won exactly as many playoff games as did the Charlotte Bobcats, Orlando Magic and Phoenix Suns combined (zero) during Dwight's brief tenure in the City of Angels. World Peace, on the other hand, contributed to 25 postseason victories, 16 of which came on the path to L.A.'s title defense in 2010.
Those numbers go a long way toward explaining why folks in L.A., both within and outside the Lakers organization, felt so differently about each goofball's antics. We forgave Metta his trespasses and even appreciated his oddball comments not only because they seemed genuine (ly insane), but also because he'd earned the benefit of the doubt by saving the Lakers' bacon not once...
But twice during their run to the 2010 title:
As for Howard, his humor came off more as a means of deflecting criticism and negativity; of shutting out the city rather than embracing it; of hiding his true feelings rather than expressing himself in a way that was commensurate with his immense abilities.
Moreover, Dwight showed only cursory appreciation for his place among basketball royalty. He seemed to shy away from the expectations inherent in being the next great Lakers big man. As Kareem Abdul-Jabbar recently recounted with Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle, Howard hardly consulted the NBA's all-time leading scorer for advice on how to improve his offensive game:
"I had a real good meeting with (Howard) when he first came to L.A.," Abdul-Jabbar said. "He was like, 'Yeah' (indicating a willingness to be coached). That was the last time I spoke with him. ... He's charming, he's charismatic, very nice young man. Maturity-wise, he doesn't get it."
What if Howard had a sky hook?
"At least he'd have an offensive move. He gets the ball on offense, oh my God, he doesn't know what to do. It's usually a turnover, people come and take the ball from him or tie his arms up. Offensively, he doesn't get it. Hasn't made any progress. We (the Lakers, when Abdul-Jabbar was a special assistant coach) played them in '09, and when I saw him this past season, he was the same player."
(Which should give some pause to those who think Howard will master Kevin McHale's "torture chamber" techniques by osmosis in Houston, though that's neither here nor there.)
MWP never seemed to truly grasp the full scope of the Lakers' franchise history, but that was never the expectation with him. He came in as a veteran replacement for Trevor Ariza in 2009 and did his fair share to contribute to Lakers lore shortly thereafter.
More than anything, World Peace appeared to relish the experience of being a Laker and living in L.A. He sought out acting opportunities in movies and TV shows off the court, but never with as much vim and vigor as he did in gaining Kobe's approval on it—as well he shouldn't have.
The same can't be said for Howard. He clashed with Kobe time and again, most notably prior to a game against the Memphis Grizzlies in late January, as Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports revealed. He never seemed to show the sort of reverence for all that the Los Angeles Lakers represent—at least not to the extent that many expected from a player deemed the next face of the franchise.
Truth be told, you don't need to know all of this to understand the disparity in appreciation between Dwight Howard and Metta World Peace among the Lakers and their supporters. Just check Kobe Bryant's Twitter timeline.
Here's what he had to say about Dwight skipping town for Space City:
Say what you want about Kobe's comments on the Lakers' chances of winning a championship next year with Metta. The point is, Bryant wasn't willing to concede World Peace's exit, even when the Lakers had (reportedly) already made up their minds. He didn't have quite so much trouble kicking Dwight out the door, though, before Howard had put pen to paper on his new contract with the Rockets.
Granted, that may be reading too much into a few hundred characters. Still, Kobe's apparent feelings aren't unique in L.A.
Nor are they unique to basketball within city limits. This is a town that's perpetually replete with talent in all walks of life. People come to L.A. from around the world with the hope of proving that they're among the best at what they do—especially if what they do is somehow connected to the entertainment industry—and that they should be celebrated, adored and compensated for it.
Some, like Metta World Peace, fight for the opportunity to show that they belong and can make it in L.A. Others, like Dwight Howard, are handed the chance on a silver platter and either toss it aside, with little appreciation, or shrink under the weight of expectations that accompany such fame and fortune.
One identified more with what L.A. is at heart: a big, diverse and quirky (if not outright schizophrenic) city, full of hard-working people with a joyous and celebratory cultural spirit. The other seemed to embody the stereotypes of L.A. that people who don't know or understand the city come to despise: the entitlement, childishness, gridlock, shallowness and delusion, among other things.
I'll let you figure out who is who, and which of those two will be missed more in Lakerland come the end of the NBA's annual moratorium.