HANG TIME WEST – There had never been a day like this in Lakers history, because they don’t get jilted by superstars, as 2007 Kobe Bryant can attest, and they collect future Hall of Famers as franchise anchors at center.
Talk about historical perspective. Fans will spin that the franchise is better off not building around a moody diva who couldn’t stand up to the pressure when Bryant was there to take a lot of the heat, and the media may argue that even one season of awkward first dates with Dwight Howard was better than another month with Andrew Bynum, and that’s all true.
But there is no getting around it: the best player at his position in the world, the planned bridge to the future in their post-Kobe world, the man who filled the demand to have glamour on the court in L.A. has left a hole by choosing the Rockets. There is no spinning that. Howard is likely taking millions less to leave, the exact amount to be determined by whether he makes his official home in Texas, with no state income tax, and whether the Lakers agree to a sign-and-trade. There is no arguing that.
Does this get the Lakers to the future sooner? They need to stop time more than any other team. The idea is to squeeze every last fist-clinch out of Bryant, not let him take a slow ride into retirement, and Steve Nash and Pau Gasol are still on the roster. While management is very protective of the cap space that will come at last in summer 2014, as it should be, anyone thinking about cashing out now better have massive ear plugs if they’re going to be within three area codes of Kobe.
Good riddance to the guy that didn’t have a champion’s heart? Yeah, because he was really dragging down the locker room. The Lakers could barely scrape together two games in a row of proper energy in the 2011 playoffs and got shown up by the Mavericks in the second round with Phil Jackson, the great motivator, as coach. The Lakers had considerable edges in size and experience plus home-court advantage in the 2012 first round against the Nuggets and nearly got bounced, then played with a lack of focus while being eliminated by the Thunder with Mike Brown as coach. There were cardiovascular issues long before Howard arrived.
At least Howard wasn’t Bynum? OK, so there are some positives.
Where the Lakers go from here would have been promising but filled with uncertainty no matter what. They were lacking athleticism last season and even worse now. Until additional roster moves are made, and maybe after, they are back to depending heavily on Gasol, now the starting center. They may have to start two point guards, Nash and Steve Blake, until Bryant returns from his torn Achilles’ tendon. With no legitimate shot at a long playoff run, the money faucet may be turned off.
And that is all before the real uncertainty of the 2014 offseason, the potential second version of LeBron James as a free agent, in case the original version wasn’t enough fun. Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Zach Randolph, Luol Deng, Rudy Gay and others could also be on the market as unrestricteds. The Lakers, barring the decision to take on big contracts now, will have the spending power and lure of Los Angeles to be major players. Plus, there is what from 50 weeks away projects as a very strong draft, depending who plays to expectations and comes out.
Management has been thinking about that future for a while, which is why Nash is the only player under contract beyond 2013-14, although Bryant has raised the possibility of continuing to play after the final season on his deal. The Lakers still have a promising future, only now it’s strictly because they’re the Lakers, not because of players in place. They wanted Howard to be part of that, as imperfect as he may be. Now he won’t be, after the day unlike any other in team history.