Last Friday, free-agent center Dwight Howard chose the Houston Rockets over the Lakers, and the reaction across the Internet has been mixed.
“While the Lakers must plot for next summer, when every contract except [Steve] Nash’s comes off the books, Houston can search for one more headliner to place alongside Howard and [James] Harden,” wrote Lee Jenkins of SI.com. “The NBA’s big domino has fallen, a moment Howard has anticipated for nearly two years. Mercifully, all the pondering and speculating and jockeying are behind him.”
Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle wrote that the Rockets “finally hooked the biggest fish in the NBA’s free-agent pond.”
“I gave out a little woop,” said Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey, according to Feigen. “A little non-presidential yell.”
Rockets current (James Harden and Chandler Parsons) and past (Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler and, via Skype, Yao Ming) were part of the recruiting pitch.
“The Rockets emphasized that Howard would be welcomed to the Rockets’ line of dominant big men from Elvin Hayes to Moses Malone, Ralph Sampson, Olajuwon and Yao, in contrast to the burden of expectation in Los Angeles,” wrote Feigen.
That last bit is notable given the ring count of Lakers’ Shaquille O’Neal, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, George Mikan and even Pau Gasol — owning 16 cumulative titles with the Lakers.
“It meant a lot, just having Hakeem show up from Jordan,” said Howard to the Houston Chronicle. “I’m looking forward to having him and [Coach] Kevin McHale push me.”
As Rockets, their contingency of greats won just two championships (both with Olajuwon).
“The biggest thing was a championship potential,” said Howard. “I watched the team after we got out of the playoffs. I looked at their team. I looked at a couple of teams. [The Rockets] just stood out. I think this is the best fit for me as far as playing basketball. I’m looking forward to it.”
Will Houston have an easy path to the NBA Finals?
As talented as Howard and Harden are, they have yet to prove they have the leadership skills and resilience necessary to win the championship that [LeBron] James called the hardest thing he has ever accomplished,” wrote Ian Thomsen of SI.com.
Some cited “sources” that said Howard left because the Lakers just weren’t impressive enough.
“He didn’t want to play for Mike D’Antoni and because, well, let’s just say Jim Buss was less than impressive during the Lakers’ meeting with Howard,” wrote J.A. Adande of ESPN.
The Lakers do have the track record, but does that shift now that the late Jerry Buss has his son Jim making the basketball decisions?
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports noted that Kobe Bryant and the Lakers wouldn’t coddle Howard.
“Kobe talked to Dwight in a way that I don’t think anyone has ever talked to him — not in Orlando, not here, not in his life, I’m betting,” wrote Wojnarowski, citing a witness in the room during Bryant and the Lakers’ meeting with Howard.
Howard joined the Lakers last summer in a trade from the Orlando Magic, the Lakers sending injured center Andrew Bynum to the Philadelphia 76ers (along with other considerations to the Rockets).
“If he missed two big free throws in Orlando, it was forgotten in 30 minutes,” said a league official tied to Howard’s past, wrote Wojnarowski. “If he missed them in L.A., they talked about it for a week. With Dwight, he has to be the face of the franchise. Anything less than that, and it would be difficult for him to function at his highest level.”
The Lakers have revolved around Bryant for nearly two decades and the All-Star guard, despite a devastating Achilles’ tendon injury suffered in April, has recently indicated that he plans to play another three or even four more seasons.
Even Variety chimed in, via TV columnist Brian Lowry, to say “Howard made a lousy decision, and it’s not just because Houston is one of those rare cities with a downtown area that’s even uglier than L.A.'s.”
Putting aside basketball, Lowry wrote Howard, “shows a decided lack of foresight for a center with a magnetic personality, good looks and scads of media potential, one who has already grappled with injuries and should be thinking about his post-basketball future.”
Randy Harvey, of the Houston Chronicle, noted that Howard gained 20,000 Twitter followers on Friday with word that his announcement would arrive by tweet.
It’s worth mentioning that the Rockets’ official Twitter feed has approximately 250,000 followers. The Lakers can boast over 3 million.
Ultimately Howard chose to speak directly to the Lakers before addressing the matter publicly.
Would Howard have chosen a different fate if the Lakers had replaced D’Antoni with Hall-of-Fame legend Phil Jackson?
“Well, I asked to have him as my coach earlier in the year,” said Howard to Alex Kennedy of HoopsWorld.com. “The best decision for me was to do what’s best for Dwight. I think this is the best thing for me. This wasn’t a decision about anybody else. I didn’t have anybody pushing me to do anything. This is what Dwight wanted.”
And the Rockets are what Dwight will get, for better or for worse....