According to Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles, Dwight Howard has developed and maintained a relationship with Phil Jackson ever since the 2009 NBA Finals–a series in which Jackson’s Lakers defeated Howard’s Orlando Magic in five games.
Apparently, Jackson has been an encouraging voice in Howard’s ear; most recently as Howard has struggled with fully recovering from back surgery:
“I’ve had people really just help me out. Guys like Phil [Jackson], he texts me and he understands how it is to come off back surgery. He just said it takes a full year to recover, so you can’t beat yourself up over the things that have happened this year.”
I’m sure fans will read more into this than they should, and it will likely once again spark up the debate of whether Phil Jackson could one day coach Dwight Howard as a Laker, but at this point that ship has sailed and it’s unlikely to happen–at least not this season. (See, there I go stirring things up!)
Then again, the fact that Dwight refers to the Zen Master as just “Phil” is a tell that the two are quite close.
Additionally, Howard publicly endorsed Jackson after the firing of Mike Brown earlier this season, saying at the time, “I think he’ll be great for me.”
Most would agree with that as Howard hasn’t quite been featured in the post nearly as much as he’d like under Mike D’Antoni’s system, and if the Lakers truly want to go forward with Howard as their future franchise player, they may have to make a coaching decision down the line should Dwight not feel comfortable with D’Antoni’s philosophy after this season.
Nonetheless, the focus as of right now for Dwight Howard is on making the playoffs and getting as healthy as possible going forward.