The same deal brought both Dwight Howard and Chris Duhon from the Orlando Magic to the Lakers, yet their arrivals nearly juxtaposed each other.
The Lakers immediately held an introductory news conference for Howard. Duhon didn't have one. The Magic fans feel betrayed by Howard's mixed messages the last year on his playing future. Hardly anyone said anything about Duhon. The Lakers believe Howard's the final piece they need to win a championship and their next franchise player. Duhon's just hoping he can share some minutes with Steve Blake at backup point guard.
Yet, Duhon's probably the most qualified Laker to provide perspective on what led to Howard's acrimonious departure from Orlando.
"It was tough for him and it was wearing on him," Duhon said Friday in a phone interview with The Times. "The thing about Dwight, he's a great guy. He wants to please everybody. He wants everybody to be happy. He doesn't anybody to think negative of him. It was a tough situation. At some time, you have to think about yourself and what you want to do. He had a tough time handling that, but at the end of the day, it wore on him."
Howard gave plenty of mixed messages. He waived his early termination option in March and declared he wanted to stay with Orlando. Howard initially preferred going to the Brooklyn Nets. He admitted in a recent ESPN interview he felt reluctant joining the Lakers partly because it would elicit comparisons to Shaquille O'Neal. Howard's overt effort in trying to orchestrate everything behind the scenes backfired, including Stan Van Gundy's revelation to reporters that Howard had asked the front office to fire him. Distrust escalated so much that Howard earned plenty of skepticism on whether he exaggerated the severity of his back injury that ultimately required surgery.
Duhon said he's consistently told Magic fans that Howard didn't intend for any controversy.
"Now that he's settled and knows what he wants to do, it's a new start for him," Duhon said. "He's a great guy. Nobody should think anything negative of him."
Whether that means Howard will re-sign with the Lakers after next season is unclear. But the Lakers are optimistic that the winning atmosphere and Hollywood spotlight will convince him otherwise.
That's not the only thing worrying Lakers fans though. They also wonder when Howard's back will fully heal and return to the court. The Lakers have already ruled him out of their exhibition opener Oct. 7 against Golden State in Fresno. Howard admitted last month he may miss the season opener Oct. 30 against Dallas and beyond if it's needed to ensure a fully healthy back.
Considering Howard has missed only seven games in his eight-year career before last season's injury, Duhon believes the wait won't last long.
"Can he play today? Yeah," Duhon said. "But he doesn't want this problem to keep reoccurring. He wants to make sure he's 100% healthy and it's not an issue anymore. His resume speaks for itself. He's a guy who goes out and plays every day and takes care of his body. I think it'll be shorter than most people think."
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