The seemingly endless soap opera of Dwight Howard’s life continues. On or off the court, Howard has always been a sports figure surrounded by melodramatic antics and controversial happenings. Between Steve Van Gundy’s divisive departure from Orlando and the internal strife within the Lakers organization, Howard always seems to be the crux in the midst of these untimely incidents. Now, with the free agency period looming upon us, the time has finally come for Howard to make a critical career altering decision; to stay in Los Angeles to eventually usher in a new era with a rebuilding Lakers team or to seek out a team where he can be the leading man once again.
Initially it would seem that Howard would stay with the Lakers for the simple reason that they can offer him the biggest contract. On top of that, the Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak has emphatically expressed his desire to not only keep Howard for the long haul but even going so far as to say that Howard should have his jersey retired and eventually have a statue erected of his likeliness in front of Staples Center, a homage Kobe Bryant doesn’t even have yet.
Speaking of Kobe Bryant, he may be the most prominent reason for Howard’s departure should he chose to do so. Throughout the regular season, Bryant and Howard continuously butted heads particularly when it came to Howard’s desire to get more touches from game to game. While Bryant’s other teammates accepted his selfish tenacity because of his high basketball IQ and his proven individual accolades, Howard couldn’t adjust to the new team dynamic. Rather than being the top dog like he was in Orlando, Howard became just another component that facilitated Bryant’s greatness and not the other way around. It eventually got to the point where Bryant vehemently called out Howard for not playing with a torn labrum in his shoulder. “We don’t have time for (Howard’s Shoulder) to heal,” Bryant said. “We need some urgency.” Bryant also hit on a key issue of Howard’s emotional needs, particularly when it came to being liked and judged by others. “He just wants people to like him. He doesn’t want to let anyone down, and that gets him away from what he should be doing.”
While Bryant’s comment didn’t come as a monumental surprise to anyone, it definitely came as a cause for concern. Howard undoubtedly has proven he has the potential and the innate ability to be one of the greatest centers of all time, however his fluctuating emotions and his insatiable need to be liked have visibly affected Howard’s abilities on the court. This is a critical factor that shouldn’t be overlooked by would teams who wish to properly utilize Howard’s talents somewhere down the line.
So far, two teams appear to be front-runners to welcome Howard with open arms into their franchises; the Dallas Mavericks and the Houston Rockets. While both are sensible fits given their needs at the center position, it becomes a questionable gamble of whether or not Howard will be a solid focal point for their teams. Not only is it essential for both of these teams to consider if it’s worth it to pay him a lofty contract but more importantly if Howard can be an exceptional teammate both athletically and emotionally.
No matter where Howard ends up in the long run, it can’t denied that he brings some debilitating baggage along with his immense on the court talents. Any team that is open to taking in Howard would be remiss if they didn’t take into account his at times unpredictable personality which could make or break the future of their respective franchises. If prospective teams can realize that Howard’s demeanor may be a major liability that needs to be seriously addressed rather than just a minor inconvenience, they may have a better idea of how to prepare for Howard’s unique persona and how to properly incorporate it into their team dynamic.