The latest example of how bad a fit Dwight Howard was with the Los Angeles Lakers comes in the buildup to his return in a visiting uniform. Well, lack of buildup. It feels like a local story, not worthy of intense national scrutiny.
Truth is, it's not a highly anticipated event in Los Angeles, where Lakers fans have already moved on to thoughts of whom they can acquire through the draft and free agency; they're not spending the week lamenting the guy they lost.
Howard's one season with the Lakers wasn't long or relevant enough to build a connection with the fan base. It provided no defining moments that will be in his career highlight reel. He didn't win a postseason game for a franchise that is accustomed to recording double-digit playoff wins annually.
It's also hard to criticize Howard's decision to leave when he's unquestionably better off for it. The Rockets are in third place in the Western Conference while the bottom has fallen out for the Lakers. Kobe Bryant has played only 177 minutes. Steve Nash, 225 minutes. Easiest way to summarize the different directions: The Rockets are on a seven-game winning streak, and the Lakers have lost seven consecutive games at home.
There's no war of words to raise the animosity. Any shots fired require interpretation, not headlines. Howard said "There's a couple things that could've been done" to keep him in Los Angeles. Bryant's response to an All-Star Weekend question about his reputation as a difficult teammate included this: "For people who don't have the same kind of competitiveness or commitment to winning, then I become an absolute pain in the neck."
It's possible Bryant could have been referring to Howard. And it's possible a desire to have Kobe relinquish control was one of Howard's couple things.
There are no doubts, no couching needed to determine where things went wrong for Howard in Los Angeles. It started with his diametric opposition to Bryant's approach to the game. Howard wants a fun-loving and jovial environment. Bryant thinks a team should be combative and competitive.
It was evident about an hour before one of their first games together. Howard sat at his locker, clad in nothing but his underwear, holding court with reporters on a variety of topics. Bryant walked through the locker room in his uniform and warm-ups, looking ready to take the court immediately.
"Is the game about to start?" Howard teased.
"I'm not the one sitting in here in my chonies," Bryant shot back, using slang for underwear.
It was a clash of sensibilities as destined to fail as the merger of AOL and Time Warner, which the media conglomerate's former president described this way to the New York Times: "They were like different species, and in fact, they were species that were inherently at war."
There were other factors at work, such as AOL's inability to maintain its position as dial-up Internet gateway after the country transitioned to broadband and wireless access. Similar functionality issues plagued the Lakers, as their attempt to slot Howard behind Kobe in a modified version of Mike D'Antoni's pick-and-roll offense left Howard feeling unappreciated and underutilized.
All that's left to be taken from Howard's time in L.A. are lessons in team-building and star alignment, reminders that personality fits are so crucial to success. The Lakers should have known that from the Shaq-Kobe days. Maybe they fooled themselves into believing that Shaq and Kobe's ability to tolerate each other long enough to win three championships could be duplicated in another awkward relationship.
Howard's time with the Lakers damaged both brands. He doesn't pop up in ad campaigns as often, and he has fallen out of the daily NBA discussion. By leaving, he put to rest the notion that stars always remain in Los Angeles if it's up to them. Not even the "Stay" billboards, so unbecoming of a franchise of the Lakers' stature, worked.
The only saving grace for the Lakers is they had enough stability that Howard's departure didn't lead to upheaval. There wasn't as much devastation left in the wake as, say, Cleveland, where the Cavaliers have dismissed two general managers and two coaches (although they brought one of the coaches back) in the four years since LeBron James last wore their uniform.
Howard didn't wreak havoc on the Lakers. They didn't derail his career, either. Maybe those are the only kind things to be said about the exchange.
Maybe the less said, the better.