In the ultimatum of Dwight Howard vs. Kobe Bryant, the Lakers chose Bryant, and Howard chose the Rockets.
That’s the latest scuttlebutt from the post-Howard free agency period, according to Ramona Shelburne and Marc Stein of ESPN. Shelburne and Stein report that, while other factors were certainly in play as Howard picked the next step in his NBA career, the overriding factor in turning down the Lakers was that Bryant was sticking around, which wasn’t going to work for Howard.
Bryant had originally said that his current deal, which runs through the end of next season, would likely be his last, as he would probably retire after it was complete. That dovetailed well with Howard’s ambitions to be the main man in L.A., and the Lakers also promised Howard that he would be the focal point of the team in the future.
But this offseason, as the time came for Howard and the Lakers to see whether a long-term contract was in store, the Lakers’ commitment to Bryant is what ended up spooking Howard away for good, ESPN reports. Bryant is coming back from what would be a career-ending Achilles injury for some, but he hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down — in fact, he now says he’s interested in playing a few more years. With Howard faced with the prospect of the Lakers not officially being his team anytime soon, he and his camp put pressure on the Lakers to choose who they wanted in the long run. Los Angeles picked the incumbent.
“Sources told ESPN.com that Howard and his representatives — in a handful of meetings with Lakers officials before he became a free agent July 1 — strongly suggested the center would have a difficult time re-signing with the team if Bryant stayed with the franchise beyond the 2013-2014 season, the final year of his contract,” ESPN reports. “… ‘How can it be Kobe’s team and Dwight’s team?’ one source said. ‘It was about the passing of the torch.'”
Howard and Co. even went as far as to suggest that the Lakers cut Bryant with the league’s amnesty provision. That was part of some scheming they were doing to figure out how the team could get cap space so the Lakers could go after other players, such as free agent Chris Paul.
“But the Lakers, sources said, made it clear the prospect of releasing Bryant or simply trying to lay out a finite timetable on the end of his career with the franchise was not under consideration, believing those decisions should and would be made by Bryant,” ESPN reports.
Howard, sensing that Bryant would have the final say about if and when he would go, decided to join the Rockets instead.
Coupled with Howard’s concerns about Mike D’Antoni‘s coaching style and the turbulence that marked Howard’s time with the Lakers, which included back-and-forths with Bryant and accusations that Howard wasn’t cut out to be a Lakers great, the Rockets and the personnel and coach they offered were an easy decision, according to ESPN.