Friday, July 5, 2013

Dwight Howard Signs With the Houston Rockets, Spurns Los Angeles Lakers (7.5.12)

So long Dwight "Superman" Howard, it really wasn't all that nice knowing you.

Rather than spilling vitriol all over the page, a la Cleveland and LeBron James, let me just say, Howard is nowhere near James' level. As much as James' detractors wished he would never succeed and win a ring, deep down, the majority understood that James would eventually lead a championship squad—I'd say it was inevitable. On the other hand, Howard's future is far less certain.

Yes, Howard joining forces with James Harden in Houston is certainly intriguing—some think it may be the second coming of Shaq and Kobe, such blasphemy—and may even lead to a ring or two, but from the Lakers' side of things, I'm not so sure that Howard would have delivered much more than disappointment had he stayed in Los Angeles—especially with coach D'Antoni at the helm. Whereas James likely would have willed Cleveland and their unfortunate sporting history to a championship, Howard's outlook as a Laker was far less certain.

So let's not lament over a big man that likely wouldn't have delivered in a manner similar to George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O'Neal, and hell, even Andrew Bynum! Howard is a defensive albatross, but after nine full seasons, he still doesn't have a go-to move offensively, and unlike the aforementioned centers, he doesn't draw double teams that lead to easy buckets for others—highlighting his inability to be a single, dominant offensive force. A common sentiment in NBA circles is that a player rarely reaches another level after a decade in the NBA—Steve Nash is one of the only players to ever do so—so the argument can be made that Howard has already peaked. Furthermore, Howard is essentially unplayable in the final minutes of any close game due to his astounding free throw woes—.577 career percentage, with an awful .491 and .492 percentage these past two seasons. While Howard's defensive capabilities should not be discounted, shouldn't the consensus "best center in the NBA" punish any team that single covers him? Take a look at Howard's shooting percentages from last season, the man shot .422% from 3-10 feet. Have an idea what Howard's career shooting percentage is from 3-10 feet? .427%, with 1,320 makes out of 3,090 attempts. If Howard isn't dunking—shot at least .705% at the rim for the past seven years—he really doesn't do much on the offensive end.

Speaking of dunking, Howard singularly relies on his athleticism more than anything else, and as that begins to fade, so will his game—including his greatest asset, his defensive capability. For a big man coming off of back surgery, and a torn labrum—an interesting injury considering Howard had been indestructible for his first seven years in the league, missing just seven games over that time—that athleticism may fade much more quickly than one may expect. Just remember, big men break down with age, and once the breaking down begins, it rarely turns the other way—the list is extensive, and it includes greats such as Shaq, Yao Ming, and Bill Walton, some who may have been great, Ralph Sampson, and even young bigs that have struggled to steer clear once the injury bug hit, hello Greg Oden and Andrew Bynum.

Overall, Howard just wasn't the right fit in Los Angeles. His goofy smile coupled with Bryant's resolute court demeanor just never looked right. While Bryant's way of doing things certainly isn't the only path to success, it certainly works, and he certainly was groomed by the greatest coach in the history of athletics. If you're a Lakers fan, don't harbor the hate, just let it go. There's no need to root against Howard. There's no need to burn his jersey. There's no need to whine and complain, just let it go. The man made his decision, and that's that. He wasn't going to deliver for us anyways.

Now the question is, what's next?

Well, that's another topic for another day. Likely, the Lakers aren't going to be very good next season. That's the reality, but that reality will likely just be a one year hit. Summer of '14 isn't that far off, and with massive cap space, the Lakers will reload like they always do—take a look at all of these free agents, obviously headlined by LeBron James. I understand that Los Angeles plays for titles, and the simple argument of, "Hey, just wait a year," isn't really all that compelling, however, were the Lakers going to win a championship next season with Howard? Realistically, unlikely, so what's the difference?

Enjoy your time in Houston, Dwight. You are the first big name to willingly leave the Los Angeles Lakers, and with that you are a trailblazer. You may win a ring or two. You may shove that smile in the face of everyone that said you are too nice to win. You may go down as one of the greatest big men to ever play. But for the life of me, I will always believe that none of those possibilities would have been an option had you remained a Los Angeles Laker. You are free of us, and we are free from you; the "Dwightmare" is over, and now it is time for all parties to move on.