Dwight Howard has decided to take his talents to Buffalo Bayou and will now patrol the paint for the Houston Rockets. Everyone breathe a sigh of relief: It's over.
And if you're the Los Angeles Lakers, contrary to popular opinion, you don't need to worry because you didn't lose a superstar. At least that's what five-time NBA champion and current TNT analyst Steve Kerr thinks, as reported by Billy Witz of the New York Times.
Yes, Kerr fired a shot across the bow after Howard spurned the Lake Show, and when you think about it, the former Chicago Bulls sharpshooter makes a lot of sense. Superman has not seemed very super at all in recent seasons, so why pay should the Lakers pay him a truckload of money after what they saw this year?
In the long term, this could very be a case of addition by subtraction.
Howard's decision to relocate seems like a severe blow to the Lakers. D12 walked away from an additional $30 million he could've gotten in a fifth year had he re-signed. Instead he "settled" for four years and just shy of $88 million with the Rockets, including a final-year player option and 15 percent trade kicker.
Now let's see if he likes Kevin McHale as a head coach. During his playing days, McHale was known to be a little temperamental to say the least. That's no longer the Lakers' problem.
As Witz observed, the Lakers now have "only $3.2 million to find a free-agent replacement." And they lost Howard's backup, Earl Clark, to the Cleveland Cavaliers. How are Pau Gasol's legs feeling by the way?
Shocking as it may seem, this could be the first time in a long time that the Lakers end up in the lottery. And they might have a lot of balls in the drum. Just don't call it "tanking."
Committing to five years and around $118 million with Dwight and his injury concerns would be asking too much, especially considering that Dwight is not a superstar, in Kerr's learned opinion. As he told Witz:
He’s an All-Star, a great player, but I don’t think he’s a superstar at this stage of his career. Even though it feels like Houston hit a home run and the Lakers struck out, I wouldn’t count on it. Dwight’s a physical specimen and an incredible presence defensively, but it’s tough to run your offense through him. He’s not a good passer, and you can’t rely on him to get baskets down the stretch against a really good defense.
Kerr had front row seats to the splendor of Michael Jordan (and Scottie Pippen) so he knows a thing or two about superstars.
Yes, Dwight has been a superstar. He won Defensive Player of the Year in three consecutive seasons. He's a voracious rebounder. He all but single-handedly led the Orlando Magic to the NBA Finals.
But the key part of Kerr's statement is "at this stage in his career." Howard has not looked like a player worthy of $121 million since early 2011, so it seems like sound reasoning for the Lakers to pass on Dwight. Instead, he passed on them, and it may very well be their gain.
Having been a superstar does not guarantee that status in perpetuity. Just ask Tracy McGrady.
Howard's athleticism and physicality provide an imposing presence. But he does have weaknesses in his game, as Kerr pointed out—he's averaged 3.1 turnovers per game for his career, a mark of his poor passing, not to mention his infamous free-throw shooting—and he never seemed willing or able to completely buy into Mike D'Antoni's system in L.A.
He also maintained a strange, passive-aggressive relationship with living legend Kobe Bryant. Numerous times during Dwight's sole season in L.A., the Black Mamba appeared as if he wanted to bite him and deliver poisonous venom to the moody pivot.
Winning takes patience, even if time is not on Kobe's side. Losing Howard is only a significant blow for this coming season, as next year's free-agent class could potentially be stacked with stars.
The Road Ahead
It's hard to believe that a player who averaged 17.1 points, 12.4 boards, 2.5 blocks and 1.1 steals per game in a "down year" could not be a superstar, but Howard certainly hasn't looked like one over the last two seasons.
As a Laker, he finished the year with a player efficiency rating ranking him just 16th among all centers. Blame the labrum, but how confident would you be that Dwight is suddenly rejuvenated next year?
Of course, Howard could emerge next season healthy for the first time in a long time and return to his previous superstar form. The Rockets have taken a gamble on him, as is their wont, but the Lakers are now poised to go after a real superstar next offseason.
Several of them have player options or early-termination options that they are likely to exercise, and you can bet the Lakers would be viewed as an attractive landing spot for most of them.
Kerr envisioned that the money they saved on not re-signing Howard could be well spent next July, telling Witz, "The smart play would be to hold off for next summer. They could have a fresh start, and it’s supposed to be a great draft, too. If they can stand having a lousy season, they would be in position to bounce back pretty quickly."
While a lousy season would be hard for Lakers fans to stomach, it could set them up to try for one last title with Kobe in 2015. Or maybe more titles than that, as Bryant recently told Mike Trudell of Lakers.com that he feels "pretty damn confident" he can play "at a high level for at least another three years."
Can you imagine the Lakers with LeBron James and Andrew Wiggins joining Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash? Down in Houston, Dwight would either be green with envy or feeling ill from the 100-degree temps and 90 percent humidity. At least his piles of money should take the sting out of not being a superstar.
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