HOUSTON — This was a different room in a different city at a different time, but it was the same old All-Star weekend scene for Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard on Friday.
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It was déjà vu all over again from last year’s festivities in Orlando, where the then-Magic star was the worst kind of host that the NBA could ever have envisioned — the kind who didn’t want to be there. So there he was at the center of a table inside the Hilton hotel conference room, refusing to discuss his looming free agency, again, being asked about the disappearance of his cheery disposition, again, and being forced to relive what had been a torturous first half to his season — again.
The Howard smile — the one that once shot through television sets all over the globe when he was the dunking Superman in 2008 at the All-Star weekend in New Orleans — made a few surprise visits in his latest interrogation session with a few dozen inquiring reporters (and that term is used loosely at this event). But with every question about the Lakers’ demise, the Lakers’ dysfunction, the Lakers’ drama, Howard’s hulking shoulders sagged. His face, and the mood, tightened.
It seemed he didn’t want to be there — again.
“The only thing that matters is the present right now,” Howard said when asked about his free agency. “There’s no need for me to talk about what happens at the end of the season, and there’s no need to go back and forth about it. I just feel like, at the end of the year, that’s when I should have my opportunity to make my own decision. And I shouldn’t be pressured or criticized for waiting until the end of the year. I don’t think it’s fair for my teammates. I don’t think it’s fair for the fans or anybody to be worried about what’s going to happen at the end of the year.”.
Where ever have we heard that non-committal stance before?
This Dwight-Mare has gone on so long that the notion of Howard being a productive player and a perfectly content person seems utterly impossible at this point. It’s not, of course, as he could re-sign with the Lakers, survive the dysfunctional dynamic with Kobe Bryant before the resident Lakers King retires (whenever that may be), and eventually have the perfect storm of business and basketball that he always dreamed of. Or he could sign with Houston, or Dallas, Atlanta or any other team that can only offer him a four-year deal worth approximately $87.8 million compared to the Lakers’ five-year deal that would likely total $117.9 million.
PHOTOS: Western Conference All-Stars.
But here’s the fascinating part about handicapping what Howard will do: So long as you know where his priorities lie, the outcome seems clear. This is where it gets interesting.
If this was just about basketball, then everything Howard had to say on Friday would indicate a July departure from Laker Land. It doesn’t take Phil Jackson to realize there’s no Zen here.
Howard is, as you’ve heard and read a few thousand times before, a fun guy who likes to have fun and is utterly miserable in his mind when there’s no fun to be had. In other words, this ride that was supposed to be a blast for Howard as he and the Lakers marched toward a title is absolute and utter torture.
The so-called Super Team Lakers are 25-29, 3½ games out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, and just had salt poured directly in their basketball wounds by losing to the crosstown Clippers for the third time in as many tries on Thursday night by 24 points. And that says nothing of the endless telenovela that has unfolded inside the locker room between Howard, Bryant and the rest.
“There’s no need to talk about (free agency),” he had said during the un-fun scrum. “I want to have fun. I want to enjoy myself and not talk about free agency or what I’m going to do at the end of the season.”.
And this: “I’ve got to do what makes me happy. That’s it.”.
And what makes you happy?
“Having fun on the court,” Howard said. “That makes me happy.”.
Are you having fun now?
“Not at the present time, no,” he said. “Hopefully it gets better.”.
For what it’s worth, it should be noted that Howard used his favorite word while describing the up-and-coming Rockets team that could be instant contenders if they signed him this summer.
“I like their team,” he said when asked about the Rockets. “They’re a great team. They’re young. They play hard. They’re scrappy. They play together. Everything they do has been great. It’s fun to watch them.”.
Because word choice is always insightful in conversations like these, consider this: He deemed the first half of the season “sour” without anyone using that particular adjective. Beyond that, it’s a never a sign of optimism and hope for the club trying to recruit a soon-to-be-free-agent when the player’s father is coming to his defense through the media just as Howard’s did recently in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (although he reportedly said he thought Howard would re-sign with the Lakers).
Barring a near-miraculous turnaround and playoff push by these Letdown Lakers, Howard’s state of mind and the effect it will have on his future endeavors couldn’t be more clear. This simply isn’t working. But the business component changes everything, and so this madness will continue for a few months more.
Howard, who has spoken several times of his desire to become an actor, loves Los Angeles and the bright lights that come with it. He can net more in his shoe deal with Adidas by being there. Insert boilerplate plan to create a global icon here.
Only Howard knows which factors will win out, but his confirmation that Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak recently told him he wouldn’t be traded before the Feb. 21 deadline meant this tired tale will continue. Fun times indeed.