The Lakers did their due diligence in free agency this summer where Dwight Howard was concerned, getting the last word in their formal pitch after the coveted big man had met with other teams.
In the end, Howard chose to sign with the Houston Rockets — a decision that many felt was a foregone conclusion even before free agency officially began.
Howard endured a tumultuous season in Los Angeles, playing through health issues while he and the team remained highly scrutinized over their collective failure to dominate the competition as was widely expected. The fact that he chose not to return was understandable, as it was clear he didn’t enjoy his one year in Los Angeles playing under such a large spotlight.
In a recent profile Ric Bucher did on the Lakers front office for the Hollywood Reporter, Jim Buss said as much about Howard and the relationship he had with the franchise.
Jim insists he’s just following his father’s blueprint, but the Howard situation suggests he missed a page. Instead of Jim spending time with Howard, the team launched a widely derided media campaign that implored “Stay” on billboards. After Howard bolted, Jim turned on his former star, saying he wasn’t surprised or dismayed. “He was never really a Laker,” says Jim. “He was just passing through.”
Historically, All-Star caliber players have welcomed the opportunity to team with others at their level, as Howard did with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Steve Nash. That wasn’t necessarily true, however, in Howard’s case.
He clashed with Bryant over perceived work ethic and dedication to winning, pushed back against the coaching staff wanting to use him in more pick and roll situations, and consistently showed up his teammates defensively when he believed an assignment or a rotation was missed.
Howard never seemed happy in a Lakers uniform, and never seemed all that likely to re-up with them by signing a max contract this summer. The comments from Buss may seem as though they were intended as some kind of slight against Howard, and the fact that he never truly committed to the Lakers organization.
But in reality, all Buss did was present a statement of fact.