When the Los Angeles Lakers were looking to capitalize on the final years of Kobe Bryant playing at a peak level, they mortgaged the future to acquire Dwight Howard and two-time MVP Steve Nash in the summer of 2012.
On the surface, the Lakers figured to contend for a championship behind a retooled a roster that not only included Bryant but Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace as well. Howard figured to add to the franchise’s pantheon of big men.
Instead, the relationship went up in flames. Nash’s season was derailed by injury and Bryant ultimately saw his career thrown off course by a ruptured Achilles’ tendon. Howard, returning from back surgery, was in some sense a shadow of himself.
He spurned the Lakers in free agency and from that spawned plenty of vitriol. The history between Howard and the Lakers — and their fans — made this summer’s reunion all the more unexpected.
Howard, however, is focused on the future and humbled by an opportunity to rejoin the franchise. “It’s a very big blessing to be able to come back here and play,” he said during an introductory conference call.
“Not too often in life you get a second chance or anything like that. This is an awesome experience. I’m looking forward to just being the best teammate, best person in the community, the best I can be for this franchise. This is going to be an amazing time. Six years ago doesn’t seem like a long time, but a lot of things have happened.”
Since leaving the Lakers, the eight-time All-Star has regularly drawn the ire from fans whenever visiting Staples Center and on social media. With it is a long-held belief of there being no love lost between Howard and the fanbase.
“I never had any ill will toward any of the fans here in L.A.,” Howard clarified. “I loved this city since I started playing in the NBA. There was never anything against anybody on the team or anything like that, it was just a decision I made.
“I love this city. I love playing in L.A. I’m back here so none of that stuff in the past even really matters to me anymore. I think we all have a fresh start.”
An opportunity for Howard’s path back to the Lakers was created when DeMarcus Cousins suffered a torn ACL that will likely sideline him for the entire 2019-20 NBA season. One driving factor behind signing Cousins was to appease Anthony Davis and his desire to not have to regularly play the center position.
Now some of that responsibility figures to fall on Howard. “My goal is to just win,” he said. “There’s nothing else that matters. Whatever I have to do to be a great teammate, whatever I can do on the court, it’s all about winning. The only thing that matters is winning a championship.”