When Dwight Howard left the wonderful world of Disney in Orlando for the bright lights of Hollywood last summer, he took two things with him: a heavy heart and a championship dream not yet realized.
Following eight wildly successful but ultimately ringless seasons in Orlando, Howard came to the realization that his championship aspirations would never be fulfilled with the Magic. In order to cement his legacy as a great basketball player, he understood the importance of adding championships (not individual accolades) to his resume.
It may be a hard pill to swallow for Magic fans, but the supporting cast assembled by the past Orlando front office was never enough for realistic championship hopes. Howard's teammates might have been enough to guide him to back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals (and an NBA Finals in 2008-09), but they never passed the eye test for consideration among the league's elites.
The chance to team up with Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol in L.A. was simply too much for Howard to pass up. That pulsating draw of hoisting the Larry O'Brien trophy drove Superman to the West Coast (according to John Denton of NBA.com).
The move was destined for execution in the court of public opinion. LeBron James felt the hatred accompany his move to South Beach. Carmelo Anthony had been massacred by the distraught fans he left behind in Denver. The demise of Howard's public standing was no different.
Superman carried no special weaponry to combat this onslaught of verbal attacks. If anything, his very public (and very lengthy) departure only increased the vulgarity of fans (and analysts) disapproving of Howard's desire to do the one thing that sports fans have long sought from their superstars: putting winning ahead of everything.
The comparison of what he left behind in Orlando and what he arrived to do in Los Angeles is laughable.
If a player chose Jameer Nelson, Jason Richardson and Ryan Anderson as teammates over Nash, Bryant and Gasol, that would be a real cause for concern. But to suggest that anyone in their right mind (Nelson, Richardson and Anderson included) would opt for Howard's Orlando teammates instead of his L.A. teammates is foolish and nearly reprehensible.
Fans may question the methods involved in forming these manufactured championship teams, but they will just as quickly cite championships won in discussions of a player's worth. There won't be a discussion of Charles Barkley's playing career without mention of the fact that he never won a title. Same holds true for Karl Malone, John Stockton, Patrick Ewing and Allen Iverson.
Legacies are formed only with championship credentials. And those credentials were impossible for Howard to achieve with the Magic.
Like it or not, the NBA is a superstars league. It has been that way for decades. Whereas past teams built up their dynasties through draft choices and trade-market plunders, current teams bolster their talent base with multiple superstars in free agency.
It's no longer a question of which superstar a franchise has, but rather how many they employ. Front offices (and players) understand that and adjust their rosters (or addresses) accordingly.
Howard doesn't have to be the man in L.A., but he's more than capable of dominating games for weeks at a time. Same goes for Bryant, Gasol and (when he's healthy) Nash.
The Lakers (8-10) may not yet appear championship contenders, but this season's not even a quarter of the way finished. Nash hasn't played since the team's second game; three different coaches have paced the Lakers sideline, and even Howard has yet to near 100 percent in his recovery from back surgery.
Howard didn't join this organization to dominate the month of December; he came to be part of the last team standing when June rolls around. No matter how this season plays out, Howard made the right decision by joining the franchise that offers him the best opportunity to add the words "NBA champion" to his growing list of accomplishments.