It might as well read as follows: Sources report Dwight Howard believes he’s special. More special, in fact, than every other player in the NBA.
That’s really been the gist of every nugget of news that’s broken about the free agent center for the past year, as he’s morphed from a happy-go-lucky, elite talent into the cancer of the league. The latest dispatch from the Dwightmare, reported on Monday by ESPNLA.com’s Dave McMenamin, is just the next logical step in the saga: Howard, according to sources, met with Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak several times after his exit interview, and in those sessions he voiced displeasure with coach Mike D’Antoni and his deference to Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash as team leaders.
Let the worrying escalate and the speculation build. Howard is going to demand D’Antoni be ousted. Howard is going to leave Los Angeles if he doesn’t get a new coach. Howard is going to . . .
First, take a closer look at those complaints. Yes, really, after his antics of the past year, the utter circus he conducted in Orlando before the team that had once held him beloved was forced to trade him, Howard still thinks he should be looked to as a leader. He still thinks, in fact, that his coach should defer to him over Bryant and Nash, or at least along with them. No matter that they’re two high-profile veterans, one in his 17th season with the Lakers and the other one of the most respected players in the NBA and in his 17th year in the league.
The center’s complaints aren’t quite as simple as that, of course. Since Kupchak emerged from his exit interview with Howard saying he was “hopeful” and “optimistic” about the big man’s return, the team has parted ways with Chuck Person, an assistant coach who was close with Howard. In addition, Steve Clifford, an assistant who came over with him from the Magic, has interviewed for the Milwaukee Bucks job and is also in consideration for Charlotte’s opening. In the ESPNLA story, a source is quoted as saying that the departure of Person and expected departure of Clifford removes the buffer between Howard and D’Antoni, “which is a bad thing.”
This news comes amid reports from CBSSports.com that Howard signing with the Lakers is far from a done deal and that the center is intrigued by both Houston and Dallas, two teams that have created ample cap room to sign the center this summer. In addition, Texas has no state income tax, thus mitigating the difference between the five-year, $118 million deal the Lakers could offer and the four-year, $87.6 maximum allowed any other team.
So of course there’s uncertainty about where Howard will go, although hardly any more than this time last week. These are all complaints we’ve heard before, or at least guessed at, and there’s been relative silence out of all camps since the Lakers’ season so unceremoniously ended at the hands of the Spurs in the first round. The only peeps out of Howard are the occasional social media shot of the food he’s eating or the massive fish he’s catching, hardly the fodder for any kind of coherent speculation.
However, Kobe Bryant did offer one nugget, equal parts inspirational and aspirational, on Monday night:
That tweet, though, creates the illusion of togetherness on a team that’s so obviously splintered. There’s the D’Antoni camp, however small, and the issues the coach brings, both those of his strained relationship with Howard and the unmet expectations of last season. It’s hard not to wonder how big of a deterrent he’ll be in Howard re-signing with the Lakers, and in all this D’Antoni is hardly innocent. But that’s an issue for another time, when a player who’s developed a reputation as a coach killer isn’t voicing his less-than shocking displeasure.
Then, of course, there are the factions of Kobe and Dwight, which by late April looked to be locked in all-out war. In the Lakers’ final game, the injured Bryant came to the bench only after Howard had been ejected, drawing speculation that the veteran didn’t want to be in the locker room when the center arrived. There was also the reported All-Star Game cold war, in which Howard mocked Bryant in the locker room, and Bryant, having gotten wind of the comments, moved his possessions to another spot. So sure, Bryant is tweeting rainbows and butterflies, but behind closed doors, it can hardly be so simple.
According to the report, the Lakers are hardly ready to jump the gun on firing D’Antoni — or any coach — to meet the demands of a player.
“This organization has a precedent with that kind of a situation and I think we learned our lesson,” Kupchak said at the team’s exit interviews, referencing the commonly held view that Paul Westead was fired in 1981 at the wishes of Magic Johnson. With that in mind, this becomes not an issue of picking a coach over picking a player, but rather of simple free agent retention, the same issue that the team has been facing since its supposed 73-win Dream Team failed to materialize.
Dwight Howard is unhappy. What else is new? Short of David Stern expanding into Seattle, giving Howard his $118 million and allowing him to hand-pick the team surrounding him, it seems unlikely that narrative will change, at last not in the near term. D’Antoni is the latest public victim of his displeasure, it appears, and there will be more.
There will be more, at least, until Howard picks his victim, and at that point, good luck.