We know better at this point than to wholeheartedly buy into Dwight Howard's regular shifts in preference and opinion, but the framing of Howard's latest turn -- by ESPN the Magazine's Chris Broussard -- seems notable if only for its implications.
According to Broussard, the Lakers may no longer be the favorites to sign Howard this summer. Dallas and Houston are reportedly the frontrunners, per Broussard, in part because of Howard's seeming distaste for re-signing with L.A. From Broussard's report:
Howard's major problem with the Lakers is the system that coach Mike D'Antoni employs. Beyond that, he did not enjoy playing with Kobe Bryant, though he could manage to do so in a different system, a source said. Howard also does not want to be second fiddle to Bryant for several more seasons.
It needs to be noted how ridiculous this notion is. Howard has expressed similar gripes since D'Antoni took over for Mike Brown back in November, expressing his desire to be used more regularly in the post as opposed to in pick-and-rolls. Howard is a solid post-up threat, and certainly better than basketball fans at large seem to believe. But he's also the league's finest pick-and-roll finisher. It's not all that surprising that a player so hungry for public approval would aim to appease his critics by working more often from the low block, but Howard does so at the expense of the Lakers' offense.
To be clear, though, Howard only averaged roughly three fewer post possessions per 36 minutes last season in L.A. than he did the year prior with Orlando. He received fewer touches and attempted fewer shots overall, but some of that is merely the reality of playing with a teammate as offensively dominant as Bryant -- an experience that Howard never encountered with the Magic. It's up to Howard to decide if that's a concession he ultimately wants to make, and based on this reported flirtation with signing with Dallas, Houston or Atlanta, we can guess which way he's currently leaning. Some players want to feel wanted, and Howard is certainly among them.
We have no reason to think that Howard is out the Lakers' door just yet, nor to believe that the Mavs or Rockets may soon add a superstar.
Dallas might be attractive to Dwight in terms of claiming a team of his own, but the Mavs still have the obstacle of moving Shawn Marion's $9 million contract to clear the necessary cap space, and they don't have much to offer immediately in terms of a competitive basketball product. Assuming that Dallas can move Marion without accepting any salary in return, the only Mavs under contract for next season are Dirk Nowitzki, Vince Carter, Jae Crowder and Jared Cunningham. Howard would eat up almost all of the team's cap space if he signed a max deal, and would thus leave little room for Dallas to build a contending core until the following summer.
The Rockets, for their part, employ both a high-volume shooter in James Harden
and a style that runs contrary to all that Howard allegedly wants. He'd be the biggest name on Houston's roster, but his arrival would necessitate a departure from all that the Rockets did so well last season. There's appeal there, still, and perhaps Howard wouldn't care much for what Houston would have to give up, stylistically, in order to appease him. But there's enough room for doubt in his pairing with the Rockets given all that we know about Howard's preferred usage at this stage in his career.