Right now, the Los Angeles Lakers are the equivalent of a bitter ex-girlfriend.
Dwight Howard moved on to bigger and redder things when he chose the Houston Rockets as the winners of last summer’s free agency sweepstakes, thus leaving L.A.’s legendary 2012-13 flop in the rearview mirror.
But Mike D’Antoni and the Lakers still haven’t moved on.
After beating Houston on November 7 behind Steve Blake’s clutch three-pointer with under three seconds left, it was fair to think that Los Angeles would be able to let go of D12 for good.
After all, what better way to get back at Howard than beating him at his new home, hitting him with the “Hack-a-Howard” strategy as he clanged 11 free throws, watching Blake’s game-winner sail over his outstretched arms and doing it all without Kobe Bryant?
The ultimate revenge, right? Nope, Los Angeles is still bitter.
L.A. loves to hate D12
The Lakers haven’t been able to stop talking about Howard ever since he abandoned them. At first, it was understandable—Bryant’s social media reactions and the responses of former Lakers players to D12’s decision were even amusing. But now, it’s getting to be a bit much.
When asked about the NBA’s leading defensive rebounder in 2012-13, D’Antoni snubbed his former center after the 99-98 victory in Houston. “I mean, down there somewhere, yeah, I’m human,” he told NBA.com’s Hangtime Blog. “It’s great (to beat Howard).”
Bryant sounded off on his relationship with Howard last season on NBAtv days before his Lakers took on the Rockets and didn’t pull any punches.
"We have two different personalities," Bryant said. "There's a certain way that I believe you have to approach the game in order to win championships. And he had a different way that he felt like would work best, and because of that, it was tough to see eye-to-eye on a daily basis."
How dare Howard leave the mighty Lakers for a team with a better roster, coach, management and more supportive fanbase? It was actually the best move for D12, being that teaming up with the Mamba was never going to work.
Now, he’s surrounded by former NBA greats in Kevin McHale and Hakeem Olajuwon that will help him improve his game, rather than feeling the pressure to live up to former Laker legends Shaquille O’Neal, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain.
Howard’s moved on—he loves it in Houston, and they love him. He told Sam Amick of USA Today that it was “irrelevant to talk about why I left L.A.”
"It happened this summer. I left. People make decisions. People change jobs. People change their minds every day, but I mean, it is what it is. I think I made the best decision for Dwight, and who cares what everybody else says?"
How can L.A. get past it?
However, like any recipient of rejection, Los Angeles is going to get over the heartbreak. And what’s the best way to cope with a breakup, be it with a significant other or NBA superstar?
Get a new one.
A ragtag bunch of role players—Jodie Meeks, Nick Young, Blake and Jordan Farmar account for four of the team’s top five scorers—have led the Purple and Gold to a sub-.500 record. But it’s entirely possible that GM Mitch Kupchak will have only three players under contract heading into next summer’s free agency circus.
If Bryant takes less money when he inks his new deal, the Lakers can chase potential FAs like Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Rudy Gay, Danny Granger and Isaiah Thomas in this upcoming offseason and still go after Rajon Rondo, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love or Brook Lopez in 2015 (via HoopsWorld).
Until L.A. brings in another superstar, though, the hope of making a title run will remain a mirage.
With D12, Jeremy Lin, James Harden and Chandler Parsons, the Rockets have the talent to contend for a championship over the course of the next five years. Los Angles will be thrilled to make the playoffs this season in the stacked Western Conference.
Who will win a championship first?
For now, Howard has the upper hand on L.A. With a smile on his face, he scorned one of the most prestigious franchises in sports, and he left the Lakers in unfamiliar disarray.
As Bryant continues to age, the pressure will be on Kupchak to nab another star to play alongside Vino and push his team toward title contention.
Only then—when Los Angeles is once again competing for a championship—will Dwight Howard, and the damage he caused to the Lakers, be truly forgotten.