Remember the Dwightmare?
It’s over now—really, it is. And somehow, Dwight Howard and his followers have all awoken to the brightest day imagined from all of the scenarios laid out over the last few seasons. With the Houston Rockets, Howard is a central piece on a team with youth, huge upside and serious title hopes for the next few seasons—and potentially beyond.
Had he stayed with the Los Angeles Lakers, this would have been far from the truth. At the outset of their 2012-13 campaign, most pundits gave the much-hyped core of Howard, Pau Gasol, Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash one season—maybe two—to complete the task of winning a title.
We all know how that turned out: Nash’s and Gasol’s bodies broke down sooner than imagined, the coaching situation was a disaster and the team failed to ever develop meaningful chemistry for more than a few games at a time.
This season’s rendition of the Lakers looks less potent yet. With a sidelined Bryant, a rapidly fading Nash and a motley collection of trigger-happy role players like Nick Young and Xavier Henry empowered by Mike D’Antoni’s stubborn, dated offensive ideology, the team looks like the fodder for the rest of the Western Conference.
Hopes for another title in L.A. rest on the allure of the franchise’s legacy, and their ability to wipe the salary slate clean, thereby bringing in new superstars through trade or free agency. It’s a decent bet that they can do it within the next few years, but the prospect of a heavyweight Lakers team is a far cry from the reality of what’s happening in Houston. "It's over with," Howard recently said about his time in L.A.
Howard’s one-time wish to land with the Brooklyn Nets is an equally dubious rabbit hole. The Nets would have given up Brook Lopez and four future first-round picks to get Dwight, essentially depleting them of the assets they leveraged to complete this past summer’s trade for Kevin Garnett, Jason Terry, and Paul Pierce. The proposed deal for Howard, had it gone through, would have committed Brooklyn to the core of him, Deron Williams, and Joe Johnson.
If Howard ended up in Brooklyn, much of the responsibility for victories would fall on Williams and Johnson—a formula that demonstrably failed when the Nets were knocked out of the first round of the 2013 playoffs by an extremely short-handed Chicago Bulls squad.
Dwight is much better off with James Harden. The pairing even makes for a better personality balance. Williams has shown himself to be every bit as a difficult to deal with as Howard—his last three coaches have all lost their jobs, only to see Jason Kidd, one of Williams’ close friends and a zero-time coach, ultimately get the spot.
The thought of a franchise trying to operate around both Howard’s and Williams’ mercurial personalities—not to mention the presence of the vampiric New York media—seems more fit for Comedy Central than the NBA Finals.
In Houston, Howard is much closer to the comfort zone that allowed him to thrive with the Orlando Magic, where he was a regular MVP candidate. By distilling the folly of the last few years into a maturation process, in which he approached his 2013 free agency with cold reason and mental sobriety—eschewing his proclivity for the brightest of lights—Howard chose the destination best suited for his success as a player.
Now, Dwight is in a market that wants him to succeed and gives him the room to do it. He’s part of a franchise that’s eager to cater to his needs, just as the Magic did, but he’s got the stupendous Harden to fall back on too. If Howard ever wins a title, it’ll be chiefly because he dropped all the nonsense and made the right basketball choice.