Upon arrival, it was deemed a mere formality that Howard would re-sign with the Lakers this summer. They played in the prodigious-type market he craved along with the supporting cast he never had. Toss in their ability to offer him tens of millions of dollars more than any other NBA team, and there was really nothing else to consider.
And there still isn't anything else to consider.
Much has been made of his potential departure during free agency. Plenty have tried to cite Los Angeles' poor start as cause for him to spurn them in July.
Plenty of people are wrong.
Not only has Howard expressed his desire to remain in Hollywood previously, but according to Sam Amick of USA Today, he continues to reiterate he is committed to the Lakers franchise:
While Bryant is the one with the storied past and present with these Lakers, Howard is seen by both them and him as the future. He has yet to make any promises about re-signing with the Lakers when he becomes a free agent this summer, but continued to sound as if his plans don't include any other teams. The power shift, he made clear, is already underway.
"I know who (Bryant) is to this team, what he has been to this team for a long time," Howard continued. "But there's going to come a day where he's going to be gone, and that's when I have to step in and fill that void and take this team to the next level. That's why I'm here. That's why they wanted me here, and I'm going to do my job and my part to make sure this team gets there – and it starts with me.
I'm sorry, but does that sound like a player who isn't devoted to his team's future cause? Does this not make it obvious that Howard intends to be donning purple and gold long after Bryant isn't? Does this not reveal everything we need to know about Howard's future in Los Angeles?
As dramatic as free agency can often be for superstars, Howard's is going to be uneventful. He'll receive a plethora of offers from other teams and he may even sit through a battery of sales pitches. But he isn't going anywhere.
No, he's not going to sign on the dotted line now, nor should he. He stands to make much more money by waiting. Possessing the ability to test the open market also ensures the Lakers can't (not that they would) become complacent.
Consider this the early stages of an inevitable long-term relationship. You know that your significant other isn't going anywhere, but does that mean you should throw personal hygiene out the window and let yourself go?
Of course not. Perpetual complacency is the enemy of progress and the antithesis of harmony.
Both Howard and the Lakers know the other isn't going anywhere, but he wants to make sure they know he has other options, that failure to put forth a valiant effort will not go unnoticed. And there's nothing wrong with that.
Howard is aware that Los Angeles presents him with the best opportunity to win a title. He's currently playing alongside three other All-Stars, an environment he cannot find anywhere else. Neglecting to mention the Lakers' tendency to remain continuously relevant, no matter the cost, is a caveat the big men cannot overlook either.
And he hasn't.
"Even now, it starts with me," Howard explained. "That's why I come in, and I work as hard as I can every day, don't take days off and all that stuff because I want to show these guys that I'm all about winning and I'm all about making sure this team gets to the top."
The center understands the potential of his team. He comprehends how successful he, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol can be right now and how important it is that he provide the team with hope for the future.
Most importantly, though, he understands that winning is a process, one that "starts" with him even now. Don't underestimate the gravity of such sentiments.
This isn't the LeBron James of 2010, who seemingly evaded any and all questions regarding his future with the Cleveland Cavaliers. This isn't the Carmelo Anthony of 2011 either, the same one who deflected any inquiries regarding his status with the Denver Nuggets. And this isn't even the Dwight Howard of early 2012, who was equivocal at best when it came to his standing with the Orlando Magic.
Instead, this is a Dwight Howard who has left little for us to a imagine, who is no longer perpetuating an ambiguous stigma. A Dwight Howard whose future is, for the first time, as transparent as cellophane.
"That's all we say," he said. "At the top is us. That's where we want to be."
Fittingly enough, his dedication to winning, to greatness tells us all we need to know—that Los Angeles is where Howard wants to be.
And that it's where he plans to stay.