Absent of context, Dwight Howard's decision to leave behind both the Lakers and the Los Angeles area might seem perplexing. Both, after all, are storied and generally desired. Houston and the Rockets, fair or unfair, don't carry the same cachet.
Count Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni among those baffled that Howard declined the Lakers' five-year, $118 million offer in favor of the Rockets' four-year, $88 million deal. In an interview with a Los Angeles-based radio show on Tuesday, D'Antoni expressed some confusion as to why Howard would leave such an apparently optimal situation. Via ESPN Los Angeles:
"It's hard for me to sit here and criticize or even to understand why he left a place like L.A. That's kind of mind-boggling a little bit, but that's in his DNA and what he wants to do."
I wouldn't go as far as to say that Howard was genetically predisposed to spurning the Lakers, nor would I find it all that "mind-boggling" that a person would deign to live in any other city and that a player would choose to work for any other team. D'Antoni knows better than to say either. To be fair, though, both the coach and the team he represents are in circle-the-wagons mode after their assumed cornerstone elected to sign elsewhere. And D'Antoni walked back his comments a bit as he continued:
"Everybody has got to make that decision," D'Antoni said. "You can debate it all you want. Only Dwight knows. Obviously he didn't think he would be as happy here as he will be in Houston. That might be the case and he had to make that decision. There will be a lot of speculation, we tried it, it didn't work out and we go forward. So be it. You hate it. Dwight's one of the better centers in the league and it would have been a long-term thing, but I looked at it like, 'OK, you don't have Dwight but you got Pau [Gasol].' So, we'll see. In the short run, we'll see what happens. In the long run, obviously 10 years from now Dwight might still be playing and maybe Pau is retired, but everybody has got to do [what's best for them]."
And there it is: That Howard "didn't think he would be be as happy [in L.A.] as he will be in Houston" makes for a perfectly justifiable explanation for his departure. He's moving on from a year of intense criticism, a season under a coach whose system he didn't prefer, a team built around a difficult personality and a roster with an inescapably aging core. Houston was the better basketball fit and clearly interests Howard in ways that are fairly apparent.
Lakers GM not surprised by Howard's departure D'Antoni likely understands this on some level. He can feign incredulity as a Lakers representative, but Howard's decision was not a surprise or some baseless error in judgment.