CSN Bay Area reports that Dwight Howard's demands of the Lakers in their meeting with the free agent center in early July centered around two controversial issues: firing Mike D'Antoni and amnestying, or "muzzling," franchise icon Kobe Bryant.
Talks with various people close to the situation make it clear there were two prerequisites for Dwight Howard to remain a Laker: fire Mike D'Antoni and amnesty, or at the very least muzzle, Kobe Bryant. As audacious as that might sound, it doesn't come without precedent in Lakers' history. When Kobe re-upped in 2004, it coincided with Shaq being shipped to Miami and Phil Jackson being let go. Of course, Kobe didn't have to pressure the team braintrust -- Mitch Kupchak and Jerry and Jim Buss -- to make those moves, since Dr. Buss, in particular, was done with both Shaq and Phil at the time.
The Lakers apparently asked Dwight to be patient on both fronts for at least another season, telling him "hey, you're going to have to gut this out another year," a source said, although it sounds as if VP of basketball ops Jim Buss isn't ready to abandon Kobe anytime soon. "Dwight didn't want to play with Kobe for 2-3 more years," Buss said. "I'm going to stand behind Kobe because of his history with the franchise." It would seem, then, with all that happened, the Lakers had the wherewithal to keep Howard if they had desired; they simply found the price too high.
Does that sound like a fairly one-sided perspective on a complex issue, almost like it was purposefully designed to leave Dwight Howard looking like a self-important jackass with a massive ego and the Lakers to look sympathetic as they defended their franchise icon?
Yeah. That's about what it looks like.
But there's a lot of smoke to this fire. Let's take a look at some headlines, shall we?
So clearly, if we look at the big picture, they didn't get along. Notice tha CSN Bay Area's report doesn't deal with the issue of firing Mike D'Antoni, as only the protection of Bryant was seen as a non-starter. CSN Bay Area clarified that point:
I know you're tired of this story and I hope this is the last post on the Howard-Lakers subject but an important clarification from my previous item: Howard,in the final conversations before leaving for Houston, didn't specifically tell the Lakers that if coach Mike D'Antoni was fired he'd stay and the Lakers never made the offer to do so if it would convince Howard to re-up. Did Dwight have issues with his role in Mike's offense? Yes. Was he enamored with playing for Phil Jackson? Apparently. But the fact is he's headed to the Rockets, who run -- or have run -- practically the same pick-and-roll offense that D'Antoni employs and, as Jeremy Lin insinuated recently and I've observed firsthand, Kevin McHale can be as publicly ascerbic as D'Antoni or any other coach assessing a player. While there are those who insist the Lakers had the wherewithal to keep Howard, the feeling is not unanimous: some involved believe he never intended to stay. That, perhaps, is why it's difficult to put this story in the rearview mirror -- because the reasons that Howard is not a Laker are vital in defining both who he is and who the Lakers are in the wake of Dr. Buss' death. Those reasons remain a point of contention. This is certainly not the first time that has happened in the wake of a star player changing addresses -- or even a star center leaving the Lakers, re: Shaq -- and maybe this is a subject better tackled by a marriage counselor or divorce lawyer, but if the parties involved can't agree on what prompted their split, maybe that's a sign that they weren't meant to be together.
The Lakers would be right to protect Bryant. He's given his life to this franchise and won them five titles, made them inconceivable amounts of money. But is it as simple as "Howard demanded him gone, the Lakers refused?" That's hard to figure. There's no black and white here. You can expect reports of Howard's side of this deal to "miraculously" appear at some point down the line, whether it's next week or months later.
One thing is clear, the Lakers do not seem ready as an organization to let go of Howard's rejection. You can understand that as well; nobody turns down the Lakers. It just doesn't happen, yet there Howard is, dressed in Rocket red for opening night.
It sets the stage for what could be a fairly amazing feud over the end of Kobe's career and another sign that sometimes, superstars can't team up. Their egos just won't let them.
This story is not going away any time soon. It's implications were just too big, the personalities involved too big.