The Hangover – Assuming you have a life, you didn’t pore over every drop of reactionary ink about Dwight Howard’s decision to sign with Houston. But that’s why I’m here for you.
First, much respect to USA Today’s Sam Amick, who scooped everyone one the story on Twitter, then followed up on Saturday with insight into Dwight’s priorities:
The list in Dwight Howard’s Bel Air bedroom won out after all, that totem pole of tasks that began with the one that inspired him to join the Houston Rockets.
“1. Shall come to pass that the Lakers will be the 2012-13 champs,” the paper that was taped on his mirror read.
From there the reaction to the Dwecision fell into tw0 main categories: Team L.A. and Team Everyone Else.
Team Everyone Else – After a report from Chris Broussard that Dwight Howard was waffling on his decision late Friday night, the first and strongest defense of the big man came from Stephen A. Smith, who was the first to go on air to give voice to Dwight’s thinking, and made it clear that the franchise that won 16 championship isn’t the same as the one that currently wears purple and gold:
USA Today’s Sean Highkin put his stamp of approval on Dwight’s move for basketball reasons:
He chose to leave the Lakers, who play in the second-biggest media market in the league, have 16 championships and could pay him $30 million more than their competition can. That’s unheard of. But it was absolutely the right move for Howard to make, from a basketball standpoint.
Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski argues that Dwight’s move was motivated by something else–love:
Every executive and coach who has ever worked with Howard will tell you: He needs to be the face of the franchise and he needs unconditional love. Those weren’t immediately available to him with the Lakers, and they’ll be showered upon him in Houston now.
Kelly Dwyer at Ball Don’t Lie was even more supportive of Dwight’s choice, going so far as to say he should be admired for it:
Dwight Howard made a basketball decision. He took less money to play with a better team in a smaller market, one that will have him working away from his current home in sunny-and-72 Los Angeles for months at a time. He’ll be judged on a global scale, in terms of influence and endorsement runs, with Yao Ming. And, more importantly, he’ll be judged alongside Moses Malone and Hakeem Olajuwon, two Rockets legends who dragged their teams to the Finals (Malone) and eventual championships (Olajuwon).
Howard is willingly taking all this on. And that, for a person that has made our life so annoying for the past two years, is worth admiring.
And God bless ESPN’s Dave McMenamin for being just about the only L.A. beat writer for the worldwide leader to not throw Dwight under the
Buss bus and for giving Houston’s GM some credit:
Morey has spearheaded the movement of NBA executives throughout the league in finding value in players not by just looking at their averages or their body size or their vertical leap, but by breaking down their shooting percentages from different spots on the court, their effectiveness when playing with certain lineups, their ability to play multiple positions.
Morey is so out in front of the movement, he hosts an analytics conference every year to foster and grow this way of thinking. All but one of the NBA’s 30 teams attended last season’s conference. The absentee team? The Lakers.
Team L.A. – Shaq accused Howard of running from pressure by going to Houston, and he was by no means the only pundit to make that argument. Just as several writers no doubt used the decision as a chance to buddy up to Howard, several took the opportunity to voice the bitterest spin from the Lakers’ camp. Three articles in particular stood out.
First, CBS’s Ken Berger, who just about had a meltdown at the thought that Howard didn’t want to play for L.A.:
What else could happen … hmm, let’s see. Oh yeah, Dwight Howard could walk away from the Lakers and wind up living out his prime basketball-playing days with all the notoriety of a tumbleweed. If the Rockets don’t win a championship with Howard, he’ll have any number of fallback scripts to peddle.
Then ESPN columnist and Angeleno Arash Markazi took a crack at it:
He left Los Angeles for Houston. He left one of the most storied franchises in sports history and a winner of 16 championships for a team that has won two titles and hasn’t even won a division title since 1995. He leaves a team that has missed the playoffs only five times in its 65-year history for a team that has missed the playoffs eight times in the past 14 years.
In hindsight, maybe Houston is actually the perfect fit for Howard, who always seemed to be more about having fun than winning championships.
So many issues here, but the biggest problem is with Markazi’s fixation with L.A.’s past. To use a Hollywood analogy, if Markazi was a movie director, he’d be casting Elizabeth Taylor over Jennifer Lawrence as the lead for a movie in 2014.
Finally, Ramona Shelburne continues the narrative that essentially says real men play in L.A. no matter how dismal the team’s future looks:
Howard looked at the Lakers and saw an aging roster, transitioning management, and a tenacious force of personality in Bryant that he would rather run from than try to change.
It wasn’t all that different from 2004, when Bryant saw a golden franchise in a low moment and embraced the challenge. This time around though, Howard had seen enough in one season to know he wasn’t the man for this job.
Coach Mac– Among the reaction stories, Kevin McHale weighs in on Dwight’s impact:
“He’s a unique guy. He can score 10 points and totally dominate the game. There are very few players in the NBA that can do that. He can bolt down the paint, block six or seven shots, get 20 rebounds, roll hard and get people shots without touching the ball. It’s a good situation.”
The Cast – Morey is already in the process of adding shooters and slashers to play off of Howard, resigning Francisco Garcia for two years (2nd year with a player option), and signing Israeli swingman Omri Casspi to a two-year deal (2nd year with a team option). Garcia was a key contributor off the bench last year, with a scorching shooting performance against the Thunder in the playoffs.
Casspi is an excellent rebounder for a wing, who shot around league-average from behind the arc with Sacramento before struggling with his shot for the last two years in Cleveland. Hopefully that regression had more to do with the system he was playing in than with his stroke, because other than his shooting, Casspi is a sold contributor on both ends.
In the frontcourt, it looks like Omer Asik will be backing Dwight up, even though he doesn’t want to.
Summer League – In an overlooked but very significant development, Terrence Jones opened up summer league play in Orlando by kicking butts and taking names, scoring 24 points, pulling down 12 boards and draining a three. As a versatile PF who plays D and can shoot, Jones has all the skills to play Robert Horry next to Howard’s Hakeem. If he can perform with consistency against starter-level talent, the Rockets’ question at the 4-spot could be answered.
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