Almost any time a player has an "of all-time" distinction attached to his name, it's a highly debatable topic. But, in this instance, there's little disputing that Howard is loathed more by Lakers fans than anyone who donned the golden armor before him.
Cedric Ceballos and his in-season vacation, Nick Van Exel and his uncanny ability to infuriate his teammates, and even Kobe Bryant's tendency to move the needle in polarizing fashion across the league can't hold a candle to the way Howard is pretty much despised outside of Houston these days.
The real question is why? That's what deserves further examination. There are plenty of layers within the answer, but the basic premise is that Lakers fans never got to see the Dwight they were so excited about in the first place.
It's hard to imagine that a player who played through a debilitating back injury after offseason surgery and led the NBA in rebounding could draw the ire of an entire fan-base the way Howard did in 2012-13. Fans were ready to embrace him as their next franchise player, and then things went terribly wrong. Howard came to L.A. with the expectations of an NBA title rested squarely upon his broad shoulders, and he didn't deliver. As unfair as that assertion is, it's the truth.
There's more to it than that when it comes to Dwight, but in Laker-land, that's enough fodder for the demanding fan-base to turn on anyone.
So again, how did the hatred come about in just one season? The circumstances are as interesting as they are complex.
By the time the 2013 NBA playoffs came around, the Lakers had injuries to most of the roster and had five rotation players out during the series against the San Antonio Spurs. It was an anomaly of a season when it came to how many and the way in which players found themselves on the trainer's table.
Here's the abridged version of what the Lakers dealt with last year (H/t to John Ireland):
- Howard -- torn labrum in right shoulder
- Bryant -- torn Achilles'
- Pau Gasol -- torn plantar fascia
- Jordan Hill -- left hip surgery
- Steve Blake -- strained hamstring
- Antawn Jamison -- sprained wrist
- Jodie Meeks -- sprained left ankle
- Steve Nash -- strained hamstring
- Metta World Peace -- left knee surgery
Normally, injuries have little to do with determining a player's likability, but, in this case, they were such an anomaly that they contributed to just how bad things really went. Part of the reason Howard isn't welcome in Hollywood is because of how far below expectations they fell. Howard was a big part of the high hopes, and when they didn't come to fruition, it was a major letdown. In turn, injuries are a definite factor when it comes to Howard's exit out of town.
If injuries alone were the culprit in making the Lakers have a miserable season, Howard might have stuck around to give it a shot one more time. There was so much going on that didn't involve basketball that it became a distraction.
The feud with Bryant that supposedly wasn't a feud was probably the highlight of all of it. Also, there were specific issues that came to light in the offseason via Steve Nash in multiple interviews that Howard never embraced the offense. That was apparent on the floor, as Howard never seemed to be on the same page with his teammates. They were constantly arguing and worse, making uncharacteristic mistakes.
That would frustrate any fan, but especially Lakers fans used to near-perfection and precise execution. Howard couldn't get comfortable on either end of the floor. His offensive game isn't refined like a traditional post player. He struggled to serve as the defensive stopper the Lakers needed him to be, often rotating late on weak-side help and failing to challenge shots. To be fair, he was playing hurt for most of the season, but, in L.A., if a player is in uniform then he's expected to bring it every night.
Averaging 17.1 points and 12.4 rebounds to go along with 2.4 blocks per game is nothing to ignore and is beyond adequate in terms of production. In fact, Howard was still one of the best centers in the league statistically, but the chemistry wasn't there, and it was never hard to see.
With Bryant, it was a clashing of personalities. Howard would smile up and down the floor, joke on the team's flights and goof off in the locker room -- that's not going to cut it in Los Angeles -- especially not when the season is going awry. Kobe didn't like it, and neither did the fans.
An unceremonious exit
Howard's last game in a Lakers uniform wasn't just prophetic of the way things would turn out in the summer of 2013, but it cemented the ill feelings fans had toward the big man. In the Game 4 loss against the San Antonio Spurs, Howard committed his second technical foul and got ejected. He then came off the floor arguing with the referees and awkwardly walked past general manager Mitch Kupchak as he pat him on the backside.
He did all of this on the Lakers' home floor while boos echoed through Staples Center. There's no better representation of how he'll be remembered in Los Angeles than that moment. Even more priceless is the fact that Kobe showed up on crutches just moments later and got the loudest cheers of the night. It was a perfect representation of where L.A. fans' loyalties lie.
The bad "Dweam"
It's hard to call the way Howard left Los Angeles a Dwightmare because the perpetuation of the story and breakdown of every action, non-action, tweet and move was covered ad nauseam. In the 24-hour news cycle and social-media culture, Howard's departure from the Lakers got more coverage than any free agent before him not named LeBron James.
It's not a Dwightmare, per se, because he can't control any of the above factors (except perhaps his brain trust, which is notorious for leaking information). The only thing Howard did was take time away from everything to make the decision he felt was in his best interest. When it came time to decide, he made what he felt was the best basketball decision. No one can really fault him for that, except for disgruntled Lakers fans who feel embarrassed that anyone could turn down more money to play with the gold standard of professional sports.
It happened, and it's still unbelievable in a lot of ways for the Lakers. It's an indictment on the uncertainty of the future, but, more importantly, in this context, it fanned the flames of hatred toward Howard.
What it really comes down to
As beloved as Howard is, Bryant is adored in Los Angeles. The fact that the two couldn't mesh well together is telling of why fans never embraced Howard. Five titles, an NBA MVP Award, two NBA Finals MVPs and a drive to win at all costs separate them.
Howard has gone on record saying that he wants to enjoy the journey of being an NBA player, live his dream and have fun. He couldn't have chosen a worse teammate, organization or fan base to align himself with if he really feels that way. Moreover, his actions in leaving indicate that he does value those things.
That's why Lakers fans will always despise him. Even in their darkest times as a franchise, excellence is the standard with the Los Angeles Lakers.
For more on the Lakers and the NBA, follow this author on Twitter @MikeJonesTweets.
Michael C. Jones is a Southern California-based journalist covering the Lakers and the NBA and was the 2012 Yahoo Contributor of the Year. He is the founding editor of Sports Out West and contributes to SB Nation in addition to Yahoo! Sports.Statistics via Basketball-Reference.com.
- Sports & Recreation
- Los Angeles Lakers
- Dwight Howard
- Kobe Bryant