Hollywood saw this coming. All of it. A long time ago.
Boasting a record of 17-24, the Lakers held a "clear-the-air" meeting prior to a game against the Memphis Grizzlies last season, per Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times. They went on to lose, falling to 17-25, but that candid gathering served as a turning point in their season.
Los Angeles went 28-12 the rest of the way, climbing its way back into the NBA playoff picture, ironically clinching seventh place at the expense of the Rockets on the last day of the regular season.
But now, Superman is a member of those Rockets, and Lakers officials are looking at that meeting as the dialogue that changed everything.
Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski writes that Kobe Bryant went at Howard in the meeting. Every single time Dwight complained about him to a teammate, Kobe knew. Every time Dwight imitated him, Kobe knew.
When it came to matters of the Lakers, Kobe was all-knowing. And pretending he wasn't aware of what Howard was doing wasn't an option.
"Kobe talked to Dwight in a way that I don't think anyone one had ever talked to him – not in Orlando, not here, not in his life, I'm betting," a witness in the room told Wojnarowski. "He's been coddled, and Kobe wasn't going to coddle him."
Right then and there, Howard must have realized he wasn't in Orlando, wasn't around the corner from the happiest place on earth anymore. There would be no pampering, no shelter from the burden of winning. Only reality—the Lakers' reality.
That was the bigger issue, bigger than Kobe and Howard. The meeting in question was headlined by the two superstars, but it brought to light Howard's inability to handle Los Angeles. Not just Kobe, but the pressure, expectations and everything in between as well.
"With Dwight, he has to be the face of the franchise," a person close to Howard explained to Wojnarowski. "Anything less than that, and it would be difficult for him to function at his highest level."
Next to Kobe and playing in a city that is bigger than any one player, Howard wasn't "The Man." Perhaps he would never be, not like he wanted to.
"The conditions need to be lined up perfectly to get the most out of Dwight," a source told Wojnarowski. "When he's engaged, he can carry a team like few else in the league. Houston is suited for him."
Never mind that other people tried to tell him James Harden was just a different version of Kobe, according to Wojnarowski. The Rockets were willing to give him the world. Harden was willing to, and has presumably, given him the reins of the franchise.
So he left Los Angeles, left Kobe, left the Lakers. His escape will become official July 10, but it may have been orchestrated a long, long time ago.
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