Expert’s Corner: What’s Dwight’s Future?

Will he, won’t he? That’s the question on everyone’s lips concerned with the Los Angeles Lakers’ fortunes over whether All-Star center Dwight Howard will decide to stick with the franchise in the 2013 offseason or not. Howard’s situation is engaging simply because he stumbled his way out of Orlando, changing his stance several times before he finally parted ways with the Magic. In this week’s Point/Counterpoint, NBA India columnists Karan Madhok and Akshay Manwani discuss whether the NBA’s marquee center will, similarly, stay put or move on from the Lakers.

Will He Stay or Will He Go?
Akshay’s Take: Dwight stays in LA Karan’s Take: Say Goodbye to Hollywood
-- While second-guessing anything D12 does is an exercise in futility, one thing that appears evident about the former Orlando big man is that he loves and craves the limelight. And where do the lights shine brighter than with the LA Lakers at the Staple Center? This is Bel-Air, Hollywood, Jack Nicholson, Andy Garcia territory, all of which will combine to entice Howard in the headiest way possible.

-- Staying with the Lakers would also allow Howard the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of the great NBA centers. From George Mikan in the late 1940s to the early 1950s, to Wilt Chamberlain between the late 1960s and early 1970s, to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the mid-1970s through to the late 1980s and Shaquille O’Neal at the turn of the 21st century, Howard could be the next great dominant center to play for the Lakers. Would he pass up such an opportunity to be mentioned along such Laker greats? I don’t think so!

-- Also, it’s not like the Lakers are pushovers. Agreed this team, built to win a title, underperformed to expectations this season, but it was a year when every one of their starting five was severely hampered by injury at one point and yet they still made the playoffs. With Bryant almost certain to come back at some point next season and Steve Nash sounding optimistic about his future with the Lakers, the franchise could be a stronger playoff contender next season. Where else would Howard get the opportunity to partner with someone of Kobe’s tenacity and Nash’s mettle and build on the Lakers’ 16 NBA titles?

-- There is the practical aspect as well. All other teams not named the Lakers - namely the Houston Rockets, the Atlanta Hawks or the Dallas Mavericks - can at best offer Howard a four-year, $87.6 million contract, the max teams can offer under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, which came into effect in November 2011. On the other hand, the Lakers’ max contract offer of five years and $118 million that will almost certainly be on the table July 1, will be significantly higher. Monetarily, it’s a no-brainer for Howard to stay put with the Lakers.

-- Modern NBA superstars, on average, are image-conscious. With Dwight, there is already the matter of him having bolted on Orlando, holding that franchise hostage to his whims (remember Stan Van Gundy’s firing) until the exact moment of his departure. If Dwight decides to provide the Lakers with an encore of that performance - let’s call it Dwightmare II – he would be at risk at alienating his fans. A third franchise in as many seasons would ultimately hurt his marketability. So, I ask, why would he leave?

- Akshay Manwani
-- Not that any of us can truly predict what goes on in Dwight Howard’s head, but if the past season has shown us one thing is this: Howard has had a terrible time dealing with the pressure of the Los Angeles limelight (Howard himself called the season a ‘nightmare’). In Orlando, he was in a smaller market where his faults could be hidden from the wider world; in LA, there has been no escaping the constant criticism on everything from his free-throw shooting to his leadership. Howard – an Atlanta-born man – will return to small-market bliss.

-- Howard has been repeatedly dismissive of discussing his Laker future, refusing to commit to a max contract extension with the Lakers and waiting till he becomes a restricted free agent before confirming his future. He will be hearing recruitment pitches from the Mavericks, Cavaliers, possibly the Rockets, and maybe a few other teams in July.

-- Perhaps the Lakers weren’t pushovers last season, but they might be next year. With their best player Kobe Bryant destined to miss a major chunk of the year, their starting point guard pushing 40, the future of power forward Pau Gasol uncertain, and no bright young spark on the team, why would Howard want to stay with the Lakers anyways? He could be wise and bolt to a younger team with a brighter future. Like Houston, for example, where he’d join a younger, on-the-rise team and play alongside a superstar like James Harden. Or push for a sign-and-trade back to his hometown Hawks who are looking to refresh their roster as well.

-- Howard’s peak years in Orlando came when he was surrounded by a team full of great shooters for him to find on the offensive end and tough-nosed defenders to help him on defense. The current Lakers’ roster is constructed to support neither Howard’s offensive strengths, and Coach Mike D’Antoni hasn’t been able to harness his skills defensively, either. To play at his peak, Howard needs to play in a system that uses him to his full potential.

-- I don’t believe that Howard’s marketability can be hurt any worse than it already has following the ‘Dwightmare’. If anything, a move to a new franchise would help give him a fresh start without the drama that he has suffered in LA. All said and done, Howard is still one of the best big men in the league: he has his faults, but moving to a new team that can help get the most out of his talents may be just the change he needs to get his career back on track.

- Karan Madhok