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.
Does a city of starry expectations want its favorite basketball team built around somebody who doesn't have the shoulders for it?
It's a good day for the Houston Rockets, but a great day for the Lakers, who will watch Howard walk to the Rockets for less money, lower expectations, and probably four more years of mediocrity.
All together now: Whew!
Gone is perhaps the biggest one-year disappointment in Lakers history, an All-Star center who arrived here last summer bearing a championship promise he quickly broke with a lack of consistent intensity, a shortage of competitive focus and an absence of any sort of measurable refusal to lose.
His first play as a Laker perfectly summed up the dream that was D12. It was a thunderous dunk. His last play as a Laker perfectly summed up the reality that was Dwight Howard. He was ejected from the final loss in a four-game sweep by the San Antonio Spurs, abandoning his short-handed teammates and disappearing through the tunnel as an injured Kobe Bryant was hobbling out.
He spent much of the season recovering from back surgery, but even when he was close to 100%, his intensity was still 50-50. He played through pain, except when he didn't. He wanted the Lakers to be his team, except when it was his team. When Bryant suffered an Achilles' tendon tear, Howard also disappeared.
For two years, this column space pushed and prodded and finally begged the Lakers to acquire Howard, then celebrated when it did. The line for suckers starts here.
"The Lakers figured it out, they always do," I wrote after Howard's acquisition last August.
It turns out, I could write the same thing again with Howard's departure. Eleven months after the Lakers figured out how to trade for him, here's guessing they also figured out that he wasn't really worth risking a five-year title abyss to keep him.
Yes, they offered him the maximum contract of $118 million over five seasons, nearly $30 million more guaranteed than the Rockets' four-year offer. Yes, they put up these silly signs all over town and General Manager Mitch Kupchak said all these silly things about Howard being the franchise's future.
But in the end, it all seemed like an expensive game of chicken. For the sake of appearances, the Lakers had to make a very public pursuit of a player they really didn't want to catch.
There will be talk nationwide that the Lakers' failure to keep a star in the prime of his career for the first time in franchise history is indicative of the organization's dysfunction and eventual downfall in the wake of the death of Jerry Buss. And, certainly, there are huge front-office problems that sponsors and season-ticket holders will need addressed, such as, who is actually running this thing, anyway?
But don't kid yourself. If the Lakers really wanted to keep Dwight Howard, they would have kept him.
If they really wanted Howard, they would have fired Coach Mike D'Antoni instead of allowing him to sit in the room for their final pitch. That's right, the biggest barrier to Howard's re-signing with the Lakers was actually brought in to sell him on the Lakers.
If they really wanted Howard, Phil Jackson would have been the coach in that room, instead of escaping to Montana while communicating to Howard through Twitter.
If they really wanted Howard, they wouldn't have attempted to dissuade Kobe Bryant from telling him the truth. While the Rockets were undoubtedly convincing Howard of his greatness, Bryant was making a final pitch in which he challenged Howard to follow his lead and strive for that greatness. If Howard was truly fit to be a Laker, he would have grabbed at the shine of those five rings instead of cowering from it.