How History Will Remember Dwight Howard's LA Lakers Stopover

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistAugust 16, 2013

August 10, 2012; El Segundo, CA, USA;   Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard stands between Jeanie Buss and Jim Buss as he holds his jersey during a press conference held to introduce the three-time defensive player of the year who was aquired in a four-team trade from the Orlando Magic. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Dwight Howard's brief cameo with the Los Angeles Lakers last year was many things: exciting, complicated, bizarre and even sad in some instances. But most of all, it'll be remembered as a failure.

What's interesting, though, is that the Lakers are already doing their best to make sure nobody remembers the extremely short "Howard Era" at all.

If owner Jim Buss has his way, Howard's time in L.A. will eventually seem as surreal and forgettable as Hakeem Olajuwon's tenure with the Toronto Raptors, or Patrick Ewing's season with the Seattle Sonics. Buss is doing his best to create a cognitive distance between his team and the superstar that ditched it by revising history.

Howard's hurtful "thanks, but no thanks" to the Lakers is clearly bothering Buss (and to a similar extent) many L.A. fans.

That's why Buss came out and told Ric Bucher of The Hollywood Reporter that Howard "was never really a Laker. He was just passing through."

What Buss really means—and what untold numbers of Lakers fans have ritualistically repeated—is that Howard was never a "true" Laker.

Let's examine that sentiment for a second.

On one level, Buss, representing the Lakers, is basically re-framing the narrative of Howard's departure to make it look as though the team is somehow glad the big man is gone. It's like he's saying, "We were glad to break up with Dwight," when in fact, Howard was the one that dumped them.

In addition, the notion of someone being a true Laker, or a "true anything" for that matter, is absurd in this context. What does that even mean? Did Howard never literally bleed Purple and Gold? Did he actually dress in the visiting locker room?

It's a meaningless idea that once-powerful teams use when they feel powerless. The alternative (and more realistic) analysis of the Howard situation is that the Lakers' ownership and personnel department screwed up. They thought assembling four stars would be enough to win, even without the benefit of chemistry, a capable coach or a bench.

That's much harder for Buss and the Lakers to admit, so they're spinning the narrative to paint Howard as being somehow unfit to have been a part of the team's storied mystique.

And by the way, it certainly seemed like the team thought Howard was a Laker when the trade that brought him to Los Angeles went down. The introductory press conference was practically a coronation. Lakers executives talked like Howard was the next in the long line of the franchise's iconic big men. He was the logical successor to Wilt, Kareem and Shaq.

But as the team floundered through a disastrous season, the unabashed joy at Howard's arrival turned to disappointment. And then wounded anger cropped up as D12 kicked the Lakers to the curb in favor of the Houston Rockets.

Buss' attempt to distance the franchise from Howard is clearly a defense mechanism designed to make it seem like the failure of the whole arrangement was entirely Howard's fault.

There's no question that Howard could have handled himself better in Los Angeles. His goof-off attitude and generally childish demeanor did little to endear him to his teammates—or Lakers fans. But he played reasonably well for a guy coming off of back surgery, and if L.A. had been winning games, nobody would have cared about his media stumbles.

Howard wasn't perfect, but he certainly wasn't entirely to blame for how things turned out.

In short, Buss and the Lakers are trying to re-write the history of Howard's time in L.A. in an effort to cover up what D12's departure really means: That the Lakers aren't some invincible, infallible organization. They're just another team, albeit one with a particularly successful past.

That past means nothing today. Howard's exit proved that much.

Ultimately, Howard's time in L.A. will be remembered not only as a failure, but also as a wakeup call that should alert the Lakers to the fact that they're not anything special.


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