"Now I'm happy to be a Laker. Now it's... I'm so excited, I mean... It's really hard to talk. I couldn't sleep last night. I tried to stay away from ESPN and as soon as I turned it on it said breaking news... and I'm like uh-oh... and it says you're traded. I'm like... oh man... thank god. I'm just happy right now. - Dwight Howard, August 10, 2012
Dwight Howard is officially an unrestricted free agent. After the Los Angeles Lakers traded for the superstar big man last Summer it was supposed to be the beginning of a new era. It was supposed to be a smooth transition from Kobe Bryant, one of the greatest perimeter players the NBA has ever seen, to Howard, one of the most dominant defensive centers the game has ever seen. The three-time Defensive Player of the Year was finally headed to the lights, camera and action of Los Angeles.
After years of Andrew Bynum hearing Howard's name whispered in the background like "he who shall not be named" , he was announced as the next Los Angeles Lakers center. Mitch Kupchak wasted no time to introduce him and held the press conference within hours of the trade being approved by the league. The Lakers were Charlie Bucket, and they had the golden ticket.
This day was always coming, though. July 1, 2013. Everybody knew it. Nothing was ever going to change the day that Howard would finally be a free agent and have that alluring choice to play where he wants. That moment where the megalomania becomes unavoidable and Howard watches the NBA court him like a king allowing the parched cities of the world to hoist him onto their shoulders.
Hand me the keys to your city and the coolest of waters shall flow to your people.
This is an awkward position for the city of Los Angeles, to say the least. A king still resides on the throne, and the illustrious history of the civilization of L.A. has never been the type to lay their riches at another man's feet. But he needs to feel wanted, and he wants to be wanted. So, dammit, let the man know the organization wants him. There's nothing wrong with the Lakers making it clear that they want Howard to sign his name for five more years of his basketball career.
The fans weren't shy about it prior to him being traded to L.A.
Dwight Howard could be leaving Los Angeles on July 10 when he intends to sign the final long-term contract while he's still in his prime. After a year brimming with his own personal adversity on the court was partnered with the struggles of the team he was brought to someday lead, everything is in his hands now. He can leave, make his own path, and start afresh.
Or he can stay. I prefer option number two.
Dwight Howard is a lot of things. Most importantly, and what really matters in the Lakers' quest for more stars at the center of the beautiful purple, gold and hardwood floor at Staples center, he's been a top five player in the league -- at the very least -- for the past five seasons.
As Kobe Bryant put it, guys like Howard are hard to find -- they don't grow on trees, you know.
His back injury severely limited him last season but he played through it. He played through it and led the league in rebounds. He played through it and averaged 1.2 points per game less than his career average while having the lowest usage rate he's had (22.6) since his second year in the league.
Sure, the Lakers can and will live on without Dwight Howard if he chooses to leave, but that future is infinitely brighter with him being a part of the franchise. The 2012-2013 season was grueling and has taken it's toll on the organization, the players and the fans. There has been no opportunity to decompress from the jarring end, and Howard's free agency has immediately become the focal point.
Howard's priority is said to be finding the organization that will give him the best opportunity to hoist multiple Larry O'Brien trophies into the air. History tells you that the Lakers are one of the only organizations to provide that unique winning opportunity to players that decide to be a part of history while forging the future.
The Lakers have 16 titles. The Lakers have won five titles -- good enough for fourth overall in title counts alone -- since 2000. The next team behind them -- the Chicago Bulls -- are ten titles behind L.A. Of course, a certain Michael Jordan also happened there. While history has already been written, and the Lakers past accolades certainly don't score them more points or grab extra rebounds, they stand as proof that winning
na turally supernaturally gravitates to the franchise.
Maybe it didn't happen last year. Maybe it won't happen next year. But it will happen again. The Lakers are in position to begin their new era and Dwight Howard has always been the number one priority, as he should be. All that cap space? That's there set aside to bring in the complementary pieces around Howard to compete for titles for the final four years of his five-year, $30-million-more-in-guaranteed-dollars, contract.
The Lakers nearly completed the vision of Chris Paul next to Dwight Howard while other franchises couldn't, and wouldn't, dream it. The Lakers held their ground while Kobe Bryant said he'd rather play on Pluto and won two more titles after keeping him in a Lakers uniform. The Lakers had the patience to hold onto Andrew Bynum while their three-time champion superstar berated him in a parking garage.
The Lakers are the place where champions become more than names in history books for their single title. They become statues in the heart of Los Angeles. They become legendary figures next to Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson. And that's just the extremely short list.
Dwight Howard is meeting with the Houston Rockets as this post hits Silver Screen and Roll. He's in Los Angeles --not Houston, not Dallas, not Atlanta -- they're meeting in Los Angeles. He spent his time recovering from back surgery in Southern California, and rolled out to his introductory press conference with Mitch Kupchak in his Bentley while TMZ chased him down.
The man belongs in Los Angeles, with the Lakers across his chest, and the crowd at Staples Center cheering him on as he leads our team to a new generation. It's frightening, but it's just about here.
What I'm saying is this -- stay, Dwight Howard. #STAYD12. Stay in the purple and gold because that's where great players play, and you are a great player. Stay with the Lakers and dominate the paint. Stay with the Lakers and make those glorious highlights we know you're capable of. Stay in Los Angeles and demolish rims as you crush alley-oops and overpower helpless defenders.
- Follow this author on Twitter @DrewGarrisonSBN