As summer drones on, not a day goes by without another report on the Orlando Magic's want-away center, the young, talented and supremely fickle Dwight Howard. It's a messy situation, made all the messier by how both Howard and the Magic franchise, from then-GM Otis Smith to the current head Rob Hennigan, have managed the situation. But, as the "reports" and "sources" blend together into a melting pot of outright lies and obvious truths, the one thing that has legitimately changed over the past couple weeks remains clear. Dwight Howard sees what the Los Angeles Lakers are doing, and he wants in.
Once upon a time (i.e. four weeks ago), Dwight Howard had just one favored destination: the Brooklyn Nets. Once time was called on any prospective trade with the Nets, as Brooklyn's hand was forced by the possibility that some other team might swoop in to over pay Brook Lopez and make them lose both the Howard sweepstakes and the sorta-kinda potentially elite center they already had. At that moment, any chance of Dwight ending up in New York's newest haven of basketball went out the window at least until January. That's when word started to surface that the Los Angeles Lakers all the sudden didn't look so bad of a destination to Howard.
There was talk that Howard might be willing to extend in L.A, which ended up being false because he's not willing to extend anywhere - and rightly so, as Howard can make more money by re-signing as a free agent with the team that holds his Bird rights anyway. Then, the talk correctly became that Howard would be willing to consider the Lakers as a long term destination. Now, according to the latest report, Howard is specifically requesting a trade to Los Angeles before the start of the season.
This is fantastic news. Not because Dwight Howard represents a huge upgrade over incumbent center Andrew Bynum (he does, not because of the overall talent gap between the two, but because Howard's strengths are a much better fit with the Lakers roster than Bynum's are), but because the reason why Howard's mind has changed is because the Lakers have changed. And while no games have yet been played, the new look Lakers sure seem like an exciting group.
Thank God for that, because the Lakers of the last couple seasons have been ... old. Stale. Look, the Kobe-Pau led teams had a great run, and I am in no way ungrateful for the two fresh banners they bestowed upon our blessed fanbase. I'm not mad at the Lakers for failing to achieve the same impossibly high standard in the following years. Losing in the 2nd round isn't necessarily what we are accustomed to around these parts, but its not something to be ashamed of.
But the frustration with the lack of success over the past couple years goes well beyond wins and losses. It has much more to do with a team that seemingly ran out of tricks, and ended up in a repetitive cycle of ennui and frustration. Kobe Bryant started taking on too much, Pau Gasol started taking on too little, and Andrew Bynum started acting the fool and the hero in equal parts. All the while, the point guards still sucked, nobody on the team could shoot, and in the end, everybody ended up looking like an over-the-top parody of their worst nature.
The trade for Steve Nash changed everything. Sure, the Lakers still have tons of issues: Can Nash help Pau Gasol get his groove back? Can Kobe co-exist with another ball dominant guard? Can MWP find just the right level of crazy? Can Andrew Bynum stop acting like an ass? Can anybody on the team play defense? Nobody knows the answers to these questions, and this grand experiment may fail spectacularly.
But none of that matters. Nash turned down bigger money to be here in Los Angeles, and his reasons are his own. Since that magical trade, the Lakers have brought in other signings (Antawn Jamison, Jordan Hill) who have done similarly. The message is clear. Nobody knows where this next version of the Los Angeles Lakers is going to end up, but plenty of folks want to be a part of it. Hype is hype, and plenty of it never comes close to being justified. But if you are looking for ways to pick out the legitimately exciting from the overly hyped, look for the opinions of the folks involved. Los Angeles is an exciting place to be once again.
Dwight Howard says so.