Why did Dwight Howard leave the Lakers for the Rockets?
Why did Dwight Howard decide to leave the Lakers and sign with the Rockets on Friday? After a weekend to let Howard’s choice sink in, here’s a round-up of all the possible answers to that question, from Howard, those involved in the courtship, media and other interested observers.
Houston was the right place
A decision as big as this one might be influenced by dozens, if not hundreds, of factors and experiences. At some point, a decision requires a cumulative analysis. When Howard weighed all the important criteria — franchise trajectory, his role on the roster, his teammates, the coaching situation, money and the ability to compete for a title — he concluded that the Rockets offered a better package than the Lakers, Mavericks, Hawks or Warriors, the other four teams that were reportedly in the running for his services.
• Dwight Howard, on Twitter: “I’ve decided to become a member of the Houston Rockets. I feel it’s the best place for me and I am excited about joining the Rockets and I’m looking forward to a great season. I want to thank the fans in Los Angeles and wish them the best.”
• Rockets GM Daryl Morey, to CSN Houston: “We thought it was actually a pretty straightforward choice, except to Dwight’s credit, he did turn down a significant amount of money to come to the Rockets. It shows me his mindset, he’s really ready to take that next step. If you look at best player — James Harden is the best player out there he could join. If you look at most successful team that he could join, last year Golden State got us by a couple of wins, but if you look at not only the age of our team but if you go on point differential, which predicts the future better, we beat all these contenders in that. We have more draft picks, more free agent money and more great young players for him to join.”
• Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated: “After two tumultuous years, the NBA’s premier center finally decided where he would spend his prime. On Thursday night, over dinner at a restaurant in Aspen, Howard told associates that he was going to sign with the Houston Rockets. He was swayed by the presence of Houston shooting guard James Harden (‘We have the opportunity to really, really grow together, which is very intriguing,’ Howard said), head coach Kevin McHale (‘One of the greatest post players ever’) and former center Hakeem Olajuwon (‘I will get to work with him regularly’). Howard refuted reports that he was leaning toward Houston all along, characterizing his decision as ‘very close.’”
• Dwight Howard, to the Houston Chronicle’s Jonathan Feigen: “The biggest thing was a championship potential. I watched the team after we got out of the playoffs. I looked at their team. I looked at a couple teams. Their team just stood out. I think this is the best fit for me as far as playing basketball. I’m looking forward to it.”
• Dwight Howard, to HoopsWorld.com’s Alex Kennedy: “I felt like Houston was the best fit for me,” Howard told HOOPSWORLD in an exclusive interview. “I felt that James [Harden] and I would really have an opportunity to grow together. I felt like having a coach like Kevin McHale and having Hakeem Olajuwon, who’s in Houston, can really help me grow as a player — help me as a post player and help my overall game. It was very appealing. I felt like this was a great opportunity for me to start fresh. … You only have a small window to win in the NBA. I think this gives me a good window, a good opportunity, to win. I’m going to do what I can to help this team win. I think, right now, I’m the oldest guy on the team so I’ll be the youngest veteran in the NBA. But it’s a great opportunity. Looking at this team and the team we had in Orlando, it’s a very similar team, but we’re adding a guy like James Harden to that team. It’s a great opportunity.”
• Dwight Howard to Mike Bresnahan and T.J. Simers, Los Angeles Times: “Walt Disney said, ‘Big risks, big rewards,’” Howard said. “He put everything he had into Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and the sky was the limit. Now there’s Disneyland and Disney World. It’s a big sacrifice leaving $30 million. Really, really a big sacrifice. But I want to win a championship and I want to get back to being the person who I am and have some fun and enjoy playing basketball. And I think that’s what I’ll find in Houston.”
• Adrian Wojnarowski, Yahoo! Sports: “In every way, the Houston Rockets are perfectly suited for Howard. He’s 27 years old and needs to start competing for championships. He wants to be the biggest star in the franchise, and he gets it. He wants to be the biggest personality in the room, and he becomes it. He wants to play for a Hall of Fame big man, he says, and he has been afforded that with Kevin McHale.”
• Magic Johnson, to ESPNLA.com’s Dave McMenamin back in June: “I would say that he will probably enjoy playing for Kevin McHale, because Coach McHale, not only was he a Hall of Fame player — and I feel with Tim Duncan, the best power forwards that have ever played the game — but you have an emerging superstar and a guy that you can definitely play with [in] James Harden. And I think that the other young players that they have, [Omer] Asik and [Jeremy] Lin, [Chandler] Parsons, those guys are right there too, with Dwight Howard, will take the next step as being one of the elite teams — one of the best four or five teams in the league and definitely will give themselves a chance to win a championship.”
• Matt Moore, CBSSports.com: “Howard for once in his life made a bold decision. Forcing his way out of Orlando was cliche and predictable. Wanting to go to a big market was cliche and predictable. But leaving the Los Angeles Lakers? That’s bold. Wanting to follow in Hakeem Olajuwon’s footsteps instead of Shaquille O’Neal’s? That’s bold. Trusting in a team that has consistently shown it can make smart moves to put together good players over a team that throws money at problems? Really bold. The decision to team up with a team with strong ties to the Chinese market, to build with a young superstar with no injury problems in James Harden, to partner with a big-man coach who can be the figure he’s looked for for so long in Kevin McHale? Those are all parts of a smart decision, a recent development for Howard.”
Los Angeles was the wrong place
The Lakers could offer Howard a five-year offer worth $118 million when outside suitors could only offer four years and $88 million, leading many to assume throughout the 2012-13 season that the All-Star center’s return was a no-brainer. However, cracks did show throughout the season. There were reports of philosophical differences between Howard and coach Mike D’Antoni, and also between Howard and Kobe Bryant. Generally, those reports were pushed back against, but Howard’s play never rose to its full capabilities in L.A. That he dealt with a rehabilitation from back surgery and injuries during the season didn’t help things, but Howard and the Lakers rarely seemed like a perfect fit on the court. Howard left the court for the last time as a member of the Lakers when he was ejected from Game 4 of a playoff series against the Spurs and he appeared to exchange words with GM Mitch Kupchak on his way to the locker room. The season couldn’t have ended in a worse way, short of a lottery trip.
• Dwight Howard, to Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated: “I wouldn’t say it was anything negative [about the Lakers],” Howard said. “It wasn’t the proper time. In the NBA, it’s all about fits and timing, and the timing was a little bit off for the situation to work. It was perfect timing, and a great fit, for a place like Houston.”
• Ken Berger, CBSSports.com: “No, it was never the right time for Howard and the Lakers, and it will never be the right time. They’re cut from different cloths. That was obvious, watching him labor uncomfortably through his only season at Staples Center — a fish out of water, a court jester with no subjects, a performer who didn’t understand his audience.”
• Shaquille O’Neal to the Associated Press: “The Dwight Howard thing, it was expected. We’ve all been in L.A., and not a whole lot of people can handle being under the bright lights. Everybody wants to do it, but when you get there, there are certain pressures. I think it was a safe move for him to go to a little town like Houston. That’s right, little town. I said it.”
• Phil Jackson, on Twitter: “He left a distaste in Lakerland. The Lakers will be fine. Pau fits MDA’s style of [offense]. It was about the future. What [Howard] brings to the game is power and [defense]. This past year didn’t show due … to rehab and confusion. If he is better [off] an Astro, so be it.”
• Bill Plaschke, Los Angeles Times: “The Lakers didn’t lose a center, they dodged a bullet. Take a hike, Dwight, and don’t let your cape hit you on the way out. Dwight Howard has been formally chased out the door of basketball’s greatest franchise by its legacy, its pressure, and, apparently, a rousing recruiting challenge from Kobe Bryant.”
• Mike Bresnahan, Los Angeles Times: “‘It’s hard because Howard was supposed to be the answer. He was supposed to bring back the glory days,’ said George Belch, chairman of the marketing department at San Diego State. ‘But so much unraveled at the end. The good news is the fans are like, ‘Good riddance. We’re glad you’re leaving because it just didn’t work out.’”
• Ramona Shelburne, ESPNLA.com: “Howard is the needy sort. Occasional gestures only go so far with him. To feel secure, he needs constant reinforcement. Which is why the Lakers greenlighted the controversial ‘STAY D12′ billboards around Los Angeles. Kupchak came the closest, calling, texting and reaching out to Howard several times a week to encourage him. He also was among the first to call attention to how Howard’s recovery from back surgery was affecting his play on the court, albeit not loudly or early enough in the year for Howard or his camp’s liking. … Ultimately though, Howard just needed more. More attention, more support, more power.”