Friday, June 28, 2013

Dwight Howard, Ex-Laker

Nothing has changed.

In January I reported that center Dwight Howard would never sign a long term contract with the L.A. Lakers as long as Mike D'Antoni is coach. With the signing deadline a few days away, the situation is still the same. If the Lakers dump D'Antoni, Dwight will sign. The Lakers haven't budged so Dwight is almost certainly  leaving. It's that simple.

The main problem is that Howard hates D'Antoni's system, which is not friendly to post-up centers like him. It's a run-run format suitable to gazelles, with defense an afterthought. Howard, however, thrives in a slow-down system which emphasizes defense. With D'Antoni in charge, Howard doesn't fit in. He's a fish out of water. But that's not all.  There's also a personal element, which is crucial--which few have mentioned.

According to sources close to several Lakers players, Howard doesn't like D'Antoni and vice versa. Their personalities clashed instantly. D'Antoni is grumpy, bossy and insensitive. Behind his back, many of the players consider him a jerk, someone you can't talk to. You do things his way, and that's it. But Howard, a gentle soul, needs sensitive, kid-gloves handling, particularly from a coach trying to stuff an alien system down his throat. Howard is never going to sign with the Lakers as long as D'Antoni is in charge.

Remember, Howard signed with the Lakers when Mike Brown was coach. Defense-oriented Brown coveted Howard, but alienated the rest of the team and was fired early last season. Enter DAntoni. Enter Dwight's nightmare.

Look at it from Howard's point of view. Why should he stay? The Lakers are going to be a bad team for a while. Coming off Achilles-tendon surgery, iconic star Kobe Bryant is an unknown. For sure, though, he won't be the old Kobe. In addition, age has wrecked Steve Nash. For Pau Gasol, a combination of age, bad knees and D'Antoni's system is lethal. Another negative: the Laker bench just plain stinks. Yet another minus: the top teams in the Western Conference are getting better. Meanwhile the Lakers, with few bargaining chips, can't improve. Why would Howard sign on, long-term, to a sinking ship? Add to that nasty mix, his disdain for D'Antoni plus the aggravation of playing second fiddle to Bryant--a constant thorn in Howard's ego--and you have a Howard exit.

Money isn't a factor. Dallas and Houston, the teams knocking at Howard's door, can offer nearly as much. But there are so many millions involved, Howard seems to be willing to sacrifice five-to-ten million to be in a comfortable situation.

The only thing that could keep Howard from bailing is for the Lakers to fire D'Antoni. That, however, is unlikely. First of all, it would be costly, with the Lakers paying two fired coaches (Brown and D'Antoni) plus the new guy. It would also be a dagger to the Lakers' pride. If D'Antoni is let go, it would be clear Howard called the shot. That would make the Laker management appear weak, and they couldn't handle that.

But if Howard defies the odds and signs with the Lakers, you can be sure D'Antoni is history. The firing wouldn't happen right away, but certainly before the season starts. That's a long shot, though..

 Next week, look for Howard to have a new home.