Why did Dwight Howard leave the Lakers for the Rockets?
Lakers Coach Mike D’Antoni was the wrong coach
Reports of differences of opinion between Howard and D’Antoni — who was hired after Mike Brown’s abrupt firing last fall — brewed for months. Back in February, Dwight Howard’s father went after D’Antoni publicly for not sticking up for Howard amid reports of a dispute between Howard and Kobe Bryant. Also at issue, it seems, were Howard’s role in the Lakers’ offense and his quantity of touches. All the bad chatter regarding Howard and D’Antoni was confirmed this weekend, as Howard said that he had asked for legendary coach Phil Jackson to return to the Lakers’ bench.
• Ramona Shelburne, ESPNLA.com: “It turned out to be a fateful decision as Howard, who had grown close to Jeanie Buss in his first few months in Los Angeles, asked — via his agents — if [Phil] Jackson could coach the team on more than one occasion. He was told then and several other times that Jackson wasn’t interested in coaching. … During his brief meeting with Howard last Tuesday, D’Antoni said very little. When Howard told him he just didn’t think he’d ever be comfortable playing in his system, the coach showed him how his statistics last season had been some of the best in his career, he actually touched the ball in the post far more than he realized, and reminded him that he’d led the league in rebounding. Howard listened and tried to absorb the information. But it didn’t jibe with his experiences.”
• J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: “He’d already told people which direction he was going. I spoke to one of them. The person said Howard told him he was leaving L.A. because he didn’t want to play for Mike D’Antoni and because, well, let’s just say Jim Buss was less than impressive during the Lakers’ meeting with Howard.”
• Dwight Howard to HoopsWorld.com’s Alex Kennedy: “’Well, I asked to have [Jackson] as my coach earlier in the year,’ Howard said, followed by a long pause before changing the topic.”
The presence of Lakers guard Kobe Bryant was problematic
It would be unfair — to both parties — to suggest that Bryant was the driving factor behind Howard’s departure. But Bryant casts a mighty shadow over the Lakers’ present, over the Lakers’ future and over the Lakers’ salary cap situation. On the books for a league-high $30 million next season while he recovers from an Achilles injury, Bryant effectively prevented the Lakers from improving their roster by virtually eliminating their salary cap flexibility. Had they re-signed Howard, the Lakers would have been over the salary cap after paying just three players: Bryant, Howard and Pau Gasol.
It wasn’t just the money, though. The two initially attempted to play nice, but they have polar opposite personalities, an issue that popped up when the fun-loving Howard reportedly did mocking impressions of the super-competitive Bryant. Rumors of a postgame verbal exchange and reports of an air-it-out team meeting also surfaced. Then, as Howard walked off the court in his final game, guess who came out to the Lakers bench and received a standing ovation? Bryant, of course. When it came time to court Howard this summer, Bryant told Lakers.com that he had no plans to retire soon, as if preemptively staking his claim. Once face-to-face with Howard, he then reportedly adopted an “older and wiser” approach in his pitch. One report indicated that Howard was put off by Bryant’s approach; Howard disputed that characterization of the meeting.
Regardless, it’s safe to say these two didn’t exactly hit it off. Shortly after Howard made his announcement, Bryant posted a photo of himself with Gasol on Instagram and reportedly unfollowed Howard on Twitter. Enough said.
• Eric Pincus, Los Angeles Times: ”I feel pretty damn confident I can be at a high level for at least another three years,” said Bryant in a video interview with Mike Trudell of Lakers.com, released on Monday.
• Adrian Wojnarowski, Yahoo! Sports: “When Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant spoke to Dwight Howard on Tuesday, his words to the free-agent center resounded an unmistakable and unflinching message: Let me teach you how to be a champion. ’You have to learn how it’s done,’ Bryant told Howard, witnesses described. ‘I know how to do it and I’ve learned from the best — players who have won multiple times over and over.’”
• Chris Broussard, ESPN.com: “Sources close to Howard tell me Kobe’s reported pitch in Tuesday’s meeting about teaching D12 how to win will be a ‘complete turnoff’ to D12.”
• Dwight Howard to HoopsWorld.com’s Alex Kennedy: “’He didn’t say anything of that sort,’ Howard said of Bryant. ‘People twisted a lot of stuff that he said. But in my personal opinion, I’m a winner. I’m a winner because I’ve been playing for nine years when the average career for an NBA player is three years. I’m a winner because I made it to the NBA from a small school in Atlanta, GA, with 16 people in a class. I’m a winner because I’m succeeding in life. I’ve had problems and I’m not better than the next man, but I’m going to push myself to be a winner when it comes to winning a championship. But he didn’t say anything like that and a lot of people twisted what he did say.’”
• Mike Bresnahan, Los Angeles Times: “Howard said Kobe’s challenging pitch at Lakers meeting did not affect him negatively: ‘Kobe did not factor into my decision whatsoever.’”
• Ramona Shelburne, ESPNLA.com: “Howard came at [Bryant and Nash] hard, telling them how upset he was that they never publicly went to bat to for him while he was injured. He felt like they’d disrespected the effort he’d given by coming back from back surgery so quickly. He felt like they had done little to mitigate the criticism he was hearing for his play. Bryant and Nash were stunned. He’d never told them any of this before, or asked them to defend him publicly.”
• Adrian Wojnarowski, Yahoo! Sports: “Bryant had come to rage against the idea that Howard’s clownish disposition could overtake the locker room, the Lakers’ culture, and had warned Howard that he would never, ever let it happen. He hated it with Shaquille O’Neal, but Shaq performed on a championship plane for the Lakers and delivered a disposition to dominate on the floor. ’Kobe talked to Dwight in a way that I don’t think anyone one had ever talked to him — not in Orlando, not here, not in his life, I’m betting,’ one witness in the room told Yahoo! Sports. ‘He’s been coddled, and Kobe wasn’t going to coddle him.’”
• Stephen Bailey, Los Angeles Times: “Anthony Romulo, 27, of Walnut [a Lakers fan], admitted that while he expected Howard to stay and thought the Lakers could compete for a title with him, the Bryant-Howard dynamic was a tough one to work out. Two ‘volume shooters,’ he called them. ’I hate to say it, I love Kobe Bryant, but Harden does not necessarily need the ball as much as Kobe Bryant,’ Romulo said.”