It's entirely possible that the latest twist in this Dwight Howard saga is at once the most ridiculous and most understandable. The New York Post is picking up on months' worth of rumors that had the Orlando All-Star (and budding GM) scared at the thought of either having to act as Kobe Bryant's clear number two in Los Angeles, or working under a heightened sense of expectations after being traded to the Los Angeles Lakers. As a result, says one "Orlando source," Howard was actually threatened with a deal to the championship-contending Lakers unless he picked up his contract option with Orlando for 2012-13.
And instead of the Lakers, Kerber relays the fact that most in the NBA have known since the beginning. That Howard, all along, wanted to go to New Jersey instead. The easy hook here is, "not Los Angeles … but New Jersey?," and you're right to take it. From the Post:
According to league sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity, Orlando brass got fed up with Howard's yes-no-maybe posturing and threatened to trade him to the Lakers, not his desired location, if he did not sign an agreement to waive the opt-out clause for the final season of his contract. Howard eventually signed the papers, but only after he was told "he would be a Laker by the end of the day," according to one source.
This is all entirely expected, though not in a particularly good way.
Sure, there are reasons to be dubious about jumping to the Lakers. Howard could have been worried about too-closely following in Shaquille O'Neal's footsteps, as the former Magic and Laker All-Star is no fan of Howard's and vice versa. There could be concerns with Mike Brown's coaching, as Howard was the biggest reason the Orlando Magic stunned Brown's Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2009 Eastern Conference finals. There could be concerns about Bryant and potential Laker teammate Pau Gasol's over-30 ages, and the fact that Bryant sometimes looks the other way when a talented big man has a good post up opportunity.
On top of those, um, "reasons," there's also the chance to team with All-Star point guard Deron Williams in New Jersey. And the reality that the "New Jersey Nets" won't be in New Jersey for long. For just two and a half more weeks, if you can believe it, before the team moves to Brooklyn. Brooklyn doesn't have a Malibu to its name, but beyond that you can't do much better than that borough, and that Big City that it's part of.
Beyond that, though, this just speaks to the absurdity inherent in Howard's warped ideals. It's nice to start fresh with a new team and new logo and new city and young teammates, but to turn down a chance to play with the Lakers? A Laker team featuring Bryant and Gasol? On top of that, a chance to play for the Lakers, opt-out in July, and still become a Net this summer as a free agent?
Instead, Howard attempted to make everyone happy, opted back into his contract for 2012-13, and more or less destroyed any chance he had at pairing with Williams on the Nets. Deron's off to Dallas this offseason as a result. The Nets are without a lottery pick and any cadre of other assets to work with, besides that cap space. The Magic will attempt to trade him if he doesn't sign the contract extension he prickishly waved off during last month's press conference staged to announce his opt-in. Also, Howard's coach doesn't care for him, his teammates can't stand this noise, and worst of all Magic fans seemed strangely ambivalent about all the chaos in last night's dispirited Magic loss to the Knicks.
Honestly, in a few weeks time Dwight Howard has gone from an MVP candidate to someone who needs a leave of bloody absence.
It's his gig, and his life, and his choices. Stan Van Gundy will get another job. His teammates will all get paid. Other superstars will find their way to Orlando. The Lakers are more than happy with their lot in life, even if they don't spend a lot these days.
But expecting Howard to do the right thing, eight years after he was drafted into the NBA? Expecting him to find that perfect mix between comfort and championship potential and all the money he could possibly make under the salary cap? That's not going to happen any time soon. His chances were blown to bits by his choices.