COMMENTARY | Los Angeles Lakers fans rightly rejoiced on August 10, 2012, as Dwight Howard held up the No. 12 purple and gold jersey that he'll ultimately wear when he plays his first much-anticipated game at Staples Center.
But could the dream that was once everyone's Dwightmare all be short-lived? The hoopla and excitement surrounding the NBA's current best big man could come to a screeching halt if the center decides to play elsewhere following the 2012-2013 season. It is at that point that he'll become an unrestricted free agent.
It's unlikely to happen, but Howard's behavioral history suggests that changing his mind is a very real possibility. We're talking about a player who held the Orlando Magic franchise at bay for nearly two years after waffling over his decision to re-sign with the team or test the free agent waters.
It is exciting to have him in Los Angeles, but fans need to remember that he hasn't made a commitment yet. He told FoxSportsWest.com's Joe McDonnell:
"I think the best thing to do is talk about it [a contract extension] at the end of the year," said Howard. "We just went through that last season, basically, and I don't want to see anyone go through it again or see anyone have to go through it. This is going to be my decision, and I'm going to wait till the end of the year."
Howard may not want to see the Lakers go through it, but that's exactly what they're going to do in 2012-2013.
The media is only doing its job by asking the questions that will invariably come. He has the power to put it all to bed by making at least a verbal commitment to remain in Los Angeles (Howard can make a substantially higher salary by waiting to sign the actual extension until he officially becomes a free agent following the season per the new CBA). Doing that would alleviate the certain distraction this is likely to become and give the Lakers' front office the ability to plan the team's immediate future.
The Lakers are clearly confident he'll re-up with the historic franchise given its prestigious history, championship pedigree and lineage of great centers like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O'Neal, Wilt Chamberlain and George Mikan. There has to be incentive for him to join such an elite list, but unfortunately no one in Laker-land can be sure how much that will factor into the decision.
For a player who has demonstrated the ability to keep a franchise guessing, it's not outside the realm of possibility. Could L.A. be in for a drama-filled saga centered around Howard all over again? Lest we forget, if Howard doesn't feel a proper fit in L.A. for whatever reason, there will be other teams like the Dallas Mavericks waiting to court him.
"Hopefully, I'll have a long career in L.A," Howard added.
It's that first word -- "hopefully" -- that will leave many fans in Southern California concerned until the ink hits the paper on a new Lakers contract during the offseason and the 'I' in Dwight is dotted in his signature.
Michael C. Jones is a Yahoo! Featured Contributor in Sports and a Southern California-based sports journalist, editor, and blogger. You can read him on SB Nation, Bleacher Report and Examiner.com. He is also the Founder / Editor of Sports Out West.
Contact Michael on Twitter @MikeJonesTweets