So you've made your decision, and you want to be a Houston Rocket. That's cool. I think you made the right choice, not because I think Houston is the better team for future championship prospects, but because it was as obvious to me as it was to you that you just didn't fit well in Los Angeles, or more appropriately, you didn't fit well in purple and gold. But on October 29th, or Christmas Day, or whatever random day the NBA decides for the Lakers to host the Houston Rockets at Staples Center for the first time, you will be booed mercilessly. It'll be just like LeBron James' return to Cleveland (except not as passionate because, hey, let's be honest, Lakers fans just don't have that kind of vitriol in them.) That's why I'm writing you this letter, because I want to make sure you know in that moment why it's happening. When all those boos are cascading down on you, don't just think they are the sad screams of a jilted lover.
You aren't LeBron James. We aren't mad because you left.
When the Lakers first traded for you, we were excited. We were thrilled, ecstatic even. How could we not be? In just a few short weeks, we added two Hall of Famers for a couple worthless (or so we thought) draft picks and an injury-plagued center who (though we couldn't have known it) never played a game the following season. It was a coup, the kind of one-sided trade the Lakers always seem to make, the kind that spoils us into thinking that the basketball world really is our oyster. We had dreams of more rings, and we completely ignored this day, when your impending free agency would be resolved. It was a given that you would be the next superstar in the rich tradition of our illustrious franchise.
You know what happened next. An 0-8 preseason snow-balled into injuries to Steve Nash, Steve Blake, and Pau Gasol. Mike Brown was fired, and, while the coach who was hired made logical sense from a tactical and strategic point of view, it rubbed a lot of folks (you apparently included) the wrong way that the Lakers did not dive for their security blanket, Phil Jackson. The injuries continued to pile up (even you got bit by the bug, how is that shoulder by the way), the losses continued to mount, and suddenly even the playoffs looked like a pipe dream. The team proved to have a number of problems for which there was no easy solution. Kobe wouldn't play defense. The point guard play, whether coming from our D-league superstars or from the Steves when they came back, was uneven at best. Nobody on the team, and I do mean NOBODY, could get back in transition. It was an absolute mess.
And then there was you. You, too, were uneven. You, too, were wildly inconsistent. And you were nothing like what we expected you to be. That might be our fault. Our expectations have never been known to be reasonable. When the Lakers traded for you, we thought we were getting this guy. But you were hurt, recovering from last April's back surgery, and you weren't the same. Still, you decided to play opening night, and (nearly) every night thereafter, playing your way into shape while doing what you could to help your new team. It was a noble gesture, and you deserve credit for it. However, like so many things from this cursed season, the gesture ended up doing more harm than good.
Your injury made it impossible for anybody to know whether your uninspired play was due to limitations on your body or something else. When you had bad games, even right after really good games, the inconsistency was explained away. You got beat to rebounds in very un-Dwight like fashion and it was impossible to tell whether you didn't jump because you couldn't jump or because you couldn't be bothered to. Still, evidence started to mount that your issues were not all physical; the missed rotations, the stupid fouls leading to decreased minutes, the ejections. Your injury, and your recovery from it, became your crutch, a way for you to explain away all of your struggles and accept none of the responsibility.
Actually, that's unfair of me to say. Maybe your injuries really were that bad, that painful, that limiting. Only you know for sure. But other people seem to have thought otherwise. Kobe urged you to play through the pain of your injury. Mike D'Antoni casually mentioned that you were cleared to play with your torn labrum before you actually did play. But if we're honest, those guys can both be assholes, and neither one is above casting blame at the feet of other people before they look upon themselves. But, I'm sorry, if Steve Nash, The World's Greatest Teammate, who has been known for years to always, always, ALWAYS blame himself if things go wrong regardless of where the actual responsibility lies, when Steve Nash has a go at you, its a pretty good indicator of who's right and who's wrong.
Then there were the incidents which require no analysis: The infamous passing around of the stat sheet in the locker room, one of the few times you were foolish enough to voice your criticism of Kobe Bryant publicly. There were all the other incidents with Kobe, which culminated in a closed door meeting between the two of you in which Bryant point blank asked you if there was a problem. There was the ejection in the final game of the season, the fourth game of a four game beatdown that was perfectly symbolic of this wasted year.
Despite all of that, the Lakers still wanted you, because at your best you are a a world-class talent. So they wined and dined and billboarded you in an attempt to bring you here for good. But they also saw enough of your antics to know they weren't sure, so their pitch to you was on their terms. It was an honest and blunt meeting, in which issues between you, Steve, Kobe and the coach were addressed. So how did you respond to such a pitch? You were apparently "emotionless", and would "barely look [the people in the meeting] in the eye". According to the same source, the impression was that your mind was already made up. And then you packed your bags and went to Houston.
That's fine. That is your right as a free agent, to play where you want, to play where you think you'll be happy. I'm glad you made your choice, and I'm glad the extra money the Lakers could offer you didn't stop you from moving on. But if your mind was already made up then, how long has it been made? Since your ejection? Since Kobe asked you point blank if there was a problem and you ran away from that confrontation? Since Steve Nash sniped at you on and off the court? Since the stat sheet? Since Mike D'Antoni's, and not Phil Jackson's (as you apparently requested) hiring? Since Steve Nash's broken leg made it clear there would be no storybook ending for this particular star-crossed collection of talent? How long have you known that playing with the Lakers, that playing with Kobe, wasn't something you wanted to do. Looking at the way you played, looking at how things have played out now in free agency, looking at all the dirty laundry now being aired because neither you nor the Lakers have any more reason besides common decency to keep it under wraps, one can quite easily come to the informed conclusion that you made this decision a long time ago. That's what I think. That's why I'm angry.
That's why we'll be booing when you make your return to Los Angeles, Dwight. We aren't mad that you left. We're mad that a part of you, the most important part of all, was never really here.