When the Los Angeles Lakers traded for Dwight Howard last year, it was widely assumed that the big man would be in L.A. for many years to come. Pairing Howard with Kobe Bryant made the team one of the favorites in the West, and the Lakers can offer the All-Star more money than anyone else. However, it appears the free agent may be gone after just one season.
According to Chris Broussard of ESPN, there is “very little chance” of Howard re-signing with Los Angeles. Sources say he is leaning towards signing a contract with the Houston Rockets or Dallas Mavericks. If Howard doesn’t return to the Lakers, he’ll be walking away from an additional $30 million.
The report states that Mike D’Antoni would be the biggest reason for Howard’s departure. The center doesn’t like the head coach’s offensive system. Whether it was the system or Howard’s injured back, Howard averaged 17.1 points per game in his one season with the Lakers. It was his lowest scoring average in six years.
The Lakers’ No.1 priority this offseason is keeping Howard. Would the organization fire D’Antoni in hopes that it would allow them to bring back the free agent?
Los Angeles has shown that they will go to great lengths to re-sign Howard. The club has already placed billboards around the city, asking the star to remain in L.A. Firing their head coach would be a much bigger decision, but it might not be an unpopular one. D’Antoni wasn’t very successful in 2013, leading the club to a first-round sweep, and not clinching a playoff berth until the final day of the regular season. The fans haven’t been supporters of D’Antoni, starting multiple “We Want Phil” chants.
It’s not unprecedented for a team to fire a coach, even before they’ve resigned a player. In 2010, the Cleveland Cavaliers fired Mike Brown after a second straight 60-plus win season. The prevailing thought was the club did it to appease LeBron James, who had just entered free agency.
Publicly, the Lakers have supported the head coach. Before the playoffs began, L.A. general manager Mitch Kupchak told the Los Angeles Times that D’Antoni would be back, and the team hadn’t considered replacing him. If the organization has to choose between their coach and star player, though, history has shown that the player is usually the last man standing.
Firing D’Antoni might not be enough to appease Howard. Broussard reports that the free agent also didn’t like playing with Bryant, who forced Howard to become the team’s second option for the first time in his career. Even with James Harden in Houston and Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas, neither player has the star power of Bryant, with whom Howard was forced to share the spotlight.
As he approaches his 10th NBA season, Howard is still without a championship ring. The Lakers have a lot of big names in Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash, but proved last season that they might not be built to win a title. The Rockets have a younger core and salary cap space, which could help them become a contender for the next few years. The Mavericks have some flexibility, as well, unlike the Lakers, who will be hamstrung in making moves this summer.
Howard has been known to change his mind often, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see him sign a max-contract with the Lakers. However, Los Angeles might have to start make some major changes or prepare to lose their starting center. Howard can begin talking to other teams on July 1.