In just two weeks, the Dwightmare could reach it's highest peak. That's when Lakers center Dwight Howard will officially become a free agent, available to be courted by whomever has the will and the wherewithal to sign the three-time Defensive Player of the year to a maximum contract.
Lakers Nation seems to be split on whether or not Howard, one of the most polarizing players of his era on and off the court, is truly worth the money and trouble that seem to follow him wherever he goes. Let's take the pulse of Silver Screen & Roll:
No. I hate to admit it but I think Howard will most likely be playing for another team next season. I am sure many will disagree with me but Howard's seems to think the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. He had a great situation in Orlando as the face of the franchise for a team that went to the finals and still had solid pieces with which to compete with going forward. Howard however wasn't happy and thus wanted to come to LA. Now that he experienced life in LA, with the burden of the bright lights and heavy expectations, he wants the green grass on the other side of the fence... the grass in Chris Paul's yard.
Howard's career has been defined by his inability to decide what he wants and to pursue it. It isn't that he hasn't possessed the power to do so before, it's that his personality seems to cause him to waffle on all his decisions. He possessed the power to force a trade out of Orlando, yet he picked up his option for another year after he was unhappy and then forced a trade later anyway. He just comes across to me as a guy looking to find the most enjoyable situation and that is always changing. It's a shame too because what he doesn't realize is that no team has been more successful over the past few decades than the Lakers and there is nothing more enjoyable than winning. The majority of criticism he has had to endure will go away with a single championship. The Lakers have a long history of producing those every few years. It's a shame he can't see the beauty of the grass where he currently resides.
No, I do not foresee Dwight Howard staying with the Lakers. Howard will have his options laid at his feet -- the Houston Rockets with James Harden, a young core and a front office that is perceived as "cutting edge", the Atlanta Hawks will roll out all the bells and whistles they can while selling him a vision of the future in his hometown, the Chris Paul effect -- and he finally gets a chance to choose after years of being contractually bound to cities. It's understandable that he wants to explore his options after watching the roster around him either destroyed by injuries (Pau Gasol, Jordan Hill, Steve Nash, Steve Blake and ultimately Kobe Bryant) or be next to useless (Devin Ebanks, Darius Morris, Chris Duhon). The roster isn't going to improve much by talent or age which makes a hard-sell for Mitch Kupchak and the front office. That leaves one year where the Lakers -might- be better if they can dodge the injury bug followed by uncertainty once the contracts of Metta World Peace, Kobe, and Pau expire. Yes, it will be his empire to rule, but for a "superstar" who claims he wants to win and win now, there are more questions than answers with the Lakers franchise while a team like Houston would approach Howard as a final piece, not a building block.
No, and every day I'm a little bit happier about it. I have to come to the belief that Dwight would rather be elsewhere; away from the pressure of playing for the Lakers, away from Kobe and all of his alpha dog glory, away from Mike D'Antoni because apparently Mike D'Antoni just isn't a fun guy to be around. And if Dwight would rather be elsewhere, there is no reason for him not to go elsewhere except one: money. The Lakers cannot offer Dwight that much more money than anybody else can, but they can offer him a longer guaranteed contract, and the only way a longer contract is a strong enough selling point to overcome all the other aspects of Dwight's free agency is if Dwight knows, or thinks he knows, that his injuries will never allow him to be the same force he once was. If Dwight knows last year's Dwight is closer to the new normal than an aberration, then you can bet he will be taking the longest, most lucrative contract he can get. If Howard believes he can be the same guy he was for most of his first decade in the league, the longer contract isn't much of a selling point. In short, the biggest advantage the Lakers have in convincing Dwight Howard to re-sign is an advantage that (if important to Dwight) signifies the Lakers should perhaps be thinking twice about signing him to a max contract in the first place.
The Great Mambino
Yes. A few of the major reasons are inherent to the Lakers: being able to offer that extra guaranteed fifth year, $28 million dollars in extra money and of course, the distinction of being a star with the most glamorous franchise in the NBA. Those are advantages that no other team will be able to dangle over Howard in what's sure to be a lengthy courting period that will undoubtedly sicken all onlookers.
Basketball-wise? There's obviously better choices. The Houston Rockets stand out as the most attractive suitor, with a top-10 player in James Harden, supremely talented shooters including Chandler Parsons, Patrick Beverley and Jeremy Lin, as well as quality supporting big men, such as Omer Asik, Greg Smith and Terence Jones. With the addition of Howard, the Rockets would become an instant contender for the Western Conference crown, and could remain there for the next five years. The Atlanta Hawks could be a great fit as well; if they were able to convince Chris Paul to sign straight away, a CP3-D12-Al Horford/Josh Smith core would be one of the great defensive cores in all of basketball. In terms of on-court greatness, there's little doubt that those destinations are better choices for Dwight Howard. There's no fear of any unknown future. No depending on the bounce of ping pong balls or veteran players coming back from injury or playing under coaches of unknown quality. The basketball future is in plain sight with both teams, and it is blinding.
But here's the dirty little secret: I don't think basketball is that important to Dwight Howard. There's no doubt that he's a serious competitor. After all, no player gets to that level of excellence (lest we forget, Dwight was one of the league's best three players just a year and a half ago), without wanting it badly. However, nearly every interview I hear from the big man is that he wants to win and he wants to have fun. He's going to get out there on the court, block some shots, grab some boards, throw down some dunks, smile and have a great time. Of course he'll throw in the requisite "I want to win. I want to win a championship", but to me, Howard's primary directive is to enjoy himself. And why shouldn't he? Does being 6'10" and humongous preclude the man from having fun? Dwight is not Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan or Kevin Garnett, a type of psychotic competitor that eats, sleeps and dreams basketball.
Los Angeles-not Houston, not Atlanta, not Dallas--gives Dwight the opportunities to have his fun and try to win with a franchise that's won 10 titles in the past 33 years. He can guest star on Modern Family, and be back at the El Segundo practice facility the next morning. He can do a skit for Jimmy Kimmel Live! and start for the Lakers for a 7:30 pm tip-off. He can hit up J. Cole's record release party after dispatching the Milwaukee Bucks and wake up the next morning and go for a jog on the beach. Yes, the pressure is the greatest in LA, but he's also looking at one year before the Lakers can court LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony or another player that can take the pressure off of him completely.
The bottom line here? Dwight Howard loves basketball, but I don't think he loves it quite enough to stop having as much fun as he can. I've heard a wave of concern that the Lakers aren't the best choice basketball-wise. Since when is that everything that matters to Dwight Howard?