Dwight Howard's Image Would Be Forver Tarnished If He Left LA Lakers

Dan FavaleFeatured ColumnistApril 28, 2013

SAN ANTONIO, TX - APRIL 24:  Dwight Howard #12 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts after being fouled against the San Antonio Spurs during Game Two of the Western Conference Quarterfinals of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center on April 24, 2013 in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Dwight Howard's image has been on life support since he joined the Los Angeles Lakers, and if he spurns them this summer, it would be tarnished beyond repair.

There isn't an illustrious history that exists between Howard and the Lakers organization. He was traded to them less than a year ago. Leaving Tinseltown wouldn't be like him deserting the Orlando Magic.

It would be worse.

Los Angeles isn't more entitled to Howard than Orlando was. The Lakers haven't invested more in him than the Magic did. Not even close. But they're prepared to. And they have the means to. Because they're the Lakers.

Howard wanted to play in a bigger market, and Los Angeles is one of the biggest there is. He wanted to play for a team that would contend for a championship, and given who the Lakers are and the financial flexibility they have moving forward, they're going to do just that.

So why leave? Why exit left from one of the most prominent stages in all of sports? Why would you dissociate yourself from a franchise that exists only to win titles?

You wouldn't. You just don't. Especially if you're Howard.

Superman has spent the entire 2012-13 campaign attempting to restore his once-infallible image. Leaving would undo everything he has done and push him to the point of no return.

To believe Howard would do that to himself after the Orlando debacle borders on inconceivable. There shouldn't even be a decision for him to make. But according to Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com, there is:

According to several sources familiar with Howard's thinking, Howard will likely explore free agency before reaching his final decision. In today's media landscape, that means there will be a circus in July while Howard hears pitches from the likes of the Dallas Mavericks and Cleveland Cavaliers

Even if it is merely Howard doing his due diligence before making a major life decision, the frenzy it is sure to create will give Howard a taste of the backlash he could face if he ultimately decides to uproot from L.A. just one year removed from the "Dwightmare" that surrounded his exit from Orlando. 

Howard doing his due diligence is hardly surprising. What would be shocking is if he opts to sign with the Dallas Mavericks or Cleveland Cavaliers, or worse, the Atlanta Hawks. It would be character-crippling as well.

Again, it's not as if Howard is forsaking the Magic all over again. The bonds that existed between him and the city of Orlando were far more convoluted than his ties to Los Angeles (for now). That doesn't change that Howard forced himself out of Orlando to be put in a situation like he is in now.

The big man didn't beg and plead to be traded to Kobe Bryant's team. He had his sights set on the Brooklyn Nets first, then came every other big-market team, the Lakers included. And he inevitably got his wish, or some version of it.

What would it say about him if he leaves the environment he pined for? More than a year was dedicated to the Dwightmare. Once he got what he wanted—a trade to a contender—it was supposed to be over.

Should he decide to sign elsewhere this summer, those memories will be relived and his selfishness rehashed. It would be the equivalent of LeBron James requesting a trade from the Miami Heat in 2011.

Laugh if you want, but James had a difficult enough time re-establishing himself as a "good guy" even after he remained loyal to his new team. And he made it to the NBA Finals in his first season with the Heat. Defecting yet again, after just one season, further pollutes an already afflicted image.

Dwight finally has what he wants, and he can't justify foregoing the opportunity at hand in favor of something else. Not without being portrayed as a coward and narcissist.

Los Angeles isn't going to win a title this season, but the Lakers will have more than $30 million in cap space in 2014 even after re-signing Howard. That summer, players like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade, among so many others will be free agents. The Lakers will be able to make a play for anyone of the big names available, because athletes want to play for an organization dedicated to winning.

Tinseltown's jovial big man can't rationalize the decision to give that up. He's not in Orlando, he's in Los Angeles. There is (realistically) no better opportunity to win.

Howard's supposed affinity for the Nets has become financially impossible, so there's no other option. What is he supposed to leave the Lakers for, the ambiguity in Dallas? A diminutive market in Cleveland? A nonexistent market in Atlanta?

Let's be real.

If Howard wants to win, there is only the Lakers now. Had he not wanted to play in the spotlight, he never should have forced a trade from Orlando. He would have been free to remove himself from the Magic this summer and play for whoever and play wherever the hell he wanted. He has no such luxury now.

After spending more than a year not-so-secretly bemoaning his future, Howard has shackled himself to his personal desires. He customized a set of parameters, a list of preferences. He didn't leave Orlando because it wasn't willing to pay him or try to win. He left because he wanted what he wanted—the glitz and glam that came with contending in a gargantuan-sized market.

And he got it. He's now "The Man" in Los Angeles. Even if he has to share the reins with Kobe, he's the future of the Lakers, the one Mitch Kupchak and the front office will do anything and everything for. 

This isn't about money. Howard would be giving up one year and approximately $31 million worth of job security if he leaves, but it's not about that. It's about preserving what's left of his image and putting himself in a position to rebuild it.

Wherever Howard goes, he'll make strides toward reconstructing the public perception that now eludes him. But it will never be the same. Not like it was in Orlando. And not like it can be in Los Angeles.

"Dwight is our future," Kupchak had said earlier in the season (via McMenamin).

And the Lakers are his. Or rather, they should be. Otherwise he'll cross the line of villainy he has toed since last season and never completely come back.