Dwight Howard shouldn't be wary of joining the Lakers. (Rex Arbogast / Associated…)
His arrival at Dodger Stadium Tuesday evening encapsulated everything regarding Dwight Howard during the endless uncertainty regarding his playing future.
As The Times' T.J. Simers observed, the Magic center appeared indecisive on what to eat for dessert. Howard soaked in the cheers Dodger fans gave him when he was featured on the stadium video screen. And afterward, Howard provided little clarity on which NBA team he'll join.
Things even beyond Howard's control have made negotiations drag out. The Times' Mike Bresnahan has reported the Magic have yet to receive assurances Andrew Bynum would sign an extension with them. Orlando hopes the Lakers will absorb some of their expensive contracts. Third parties have become involved so the Magic could find draft picks and the Lakers could find a reasonable suitor for Bynum.
Still, multiple reports in the past season have indicated that Howard has been pretty skeptical about joining the Lakers. But at this point, plenty of Howard's reported concerns should be unfounded.
1. Howard doesn't want to follow in Shaq's footsteps. Why? Just because The Big Diesel might belittle him on TNT? Just because he doesn't want to hear the endless comparisons between two former Magic centers nicknamed "Superman" going to Los Angeles? Just because the Lakers have an impressive lineage of centers, including George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and O'Neal? Howard should stop acting like this is a bad thing. Embrace it.
2. The Lakers don't give Howard the best chance to win. That may have been true when Howard was still hoping he could join Deron Williams with the Brooklyn Nets. Or before the Lakers secured Steve Nash. But this is a different reality now. Staying in Orlando for another season will just be an endless distraction. Joining New Jersey during next year's free agency appears financially unrealistic. The Dallas Mavericks may have cleared cap space, but lost several pieces of its 2011 championship team.
The Lakers may be aging. But they're still incredibly talented. A Steve Nash-Kobe Bryant-Pau Gasol-Metta World Peace starting lineup would do wonders for Howard's game. He'd have plenty of looks at pick-and-roll with Nash. Howard won't face as many double teams with Bryant and Gasol on the floor. And World Peace will provide plenty of support on defense. All that time lamenting the lack of a supporting cast in Orlando will disappear should Howard put on a Lakers uniform.
3. Howard and Bryant won't mesh well together on the floor. The Lakers' hopes of acquiring Howard earlier this year reportedly turned for the worse after the two had a series of phone conversations. One of the messages entailed Bryant reiterating his stance that he's still running the team and that Howard may have to sacrifice touches for Gasol. It's not exactly an approach most salesmen would take in securing a deal. Bryant was just being brutally honest.
Still, there are ways to work around that. Bryant and Howard have gotten along since playing together in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Those phone conversations shouldn't permanently fracture their relationship. There may be an ever-evolving dynamic in the offense. But Nash's presence could cause Bryant to step back a bit simply because it would lessen his workload. As he's shown during Andrew Bynum's growth, Bryant has given him strong support in featuring him more in the offense.
That doesn't mean Bryant won't have games where he'll take too many shots. But with his career closing, Bryant's more consumed with winning more championships than tallying as many points as possible. There will ultimately be some give-and-take in ensuring the team operates well as a unit.
4. Howard won't have a team built around him. That's perhaps the case for now. But in only two years, things could drastically change. Bryant's contract ends and he's suggested he may retire at that point. Come to think of it, the contracts of Gasol and World Peace also expire then. A year after that, Nash's deal expires. In Howard's eyes, he shouldn't see this as a massive rebuilding process. The Lakers can still squeeze out two or three titles with this current roster. Howard would then be set up to transition the Lakers into the post-Bryant era, where they will target younger and faster players to help prolong the championship run.
5. Howard wants to build a stronger brand. For some reason, Howard senses that's only possible in New York. Since when isn't that possible in Los Angeles? Once he sets foot in Staples Center, every Hollywood celebrity will embrace him, invite him to red carpet events and pitch on-screen cameos. As the winning builds, so will his marketing brands. Should Howard arrive here, he'll love the spotlight so much he won't be able to leave.
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