Dwight Howard Won’t Get Serious, Which is Good News For Lakers

NBA: Orlando Magic at Los Angeles LakersThere was once a St. Louis Cardinal pitcher named Dizzy Dean, whose given name—either Jerome or Jay, he gave out both versions–didn’t do justice to his zany nature. The Hall of Fame-bound fireballer that he was, he was conked in the head by a line drive in the 1934 World Series.

“The doctors X-rayed my head,” said Diz immortally, “and found nothing.”

I’m not saying there’s nothing in Howard’s head. It’s just that it’s hard to figure out what it is.

Nevertheless, I’m on to his methodology in choosing his next team.

I can’t tell you if he’ll re-sign with the Lakers, or go to the Rockets, Mavericks, Hawks, Warriors or any other team on his growing list. I can tell you the fancy he’s showing suggests he doesn’t understand the hard choice he faces, much less begun to make. And when he does, staying is still the likeliest outcome.

Last week’s report of his interest in Golden State was the tip-off, since, on a scale of 1-10, I’d put its chance of happening at zero. This suggests that Dwight and the people around him–as opposed to agent Dan Fegan—are doing this like a class of of sixth graders let loose in Disneyland without adult supervision.

That’s good news for the Lakers. When Dwight and the other kids get into this, they’ll know two things I assumed they understood all along:

1. The Lakers’ guaranteed $118 million is 35% bigger than that of any other team, whether Dwight signs as a free agent or goes in another trade. The widely-broadcast but little understood advantage of playing in Texas, which has no state income tax, would save him 10%–meaning he’d still net a 25% less.

—- Check out Lakers big man Dwight Howard’s player bio here! —-

2. The Lakers aren’t likely to agree to any sign-and trade. At that point, Dwight and the kids will learn why Fegan talks about a “fifth-year rule,” which means, take the extra money. If you don’t like it here, we’ll get them to trade you.

Until last week, all the teams mentioned as suitors for Howard—Houston, Dallas, Atlanta—had been realistic. All three had a maximum salary slot so Howard could just walk in, sign and bid the Lakers adieu. The Warriors, on the other hand, have no max slot—and may have no interest, whether Dwight and the kids are interested in them or not.

Let me count the ways:

1. If Golden State would be obliged to trade for him, the Lakers are less likely to trade with them–assuming they would trade with anyone. Their best fallback if Howard walks may be just letting him go, saving the $21 milion they’d have paid him, dropping them $55 million under the cap next spring. If losing Dwight isn’t the Lakers’ preferred option, taking nothing back would result in $50 million of savings in salary and enhanced luxury tax. The Lakers may not be remotely interested in, say, Klay Thompson and David Lee.

I don’t think the Lakes would take Klay, Lee and Harrison Barnes.

Actually, since Steph Curry, who really is special, has problematic ankles, I doubt the Lakers would take the entire Warrior roster if the alternative is starting over $55 million under the cap in 2014.

2. Oh, and the Lakers and Warriors are division rivals who almost never trade with each other The operative word is “division,” not “rivals,” since Golden State hasn’t been much trouble, but proximity hardly made Warrior hearts grow fonder.

3. The Warriors like their team, which, by the way, finished ahead of the Lakers. Who says they have any intention of parting with young, exciting players like Steph, Klay and Barnes for Dwight, who hardly ushered in a new golden age in Lakerdom? As far as Dwight’s concerned, this is vacation after school (the season, actually) let out, until July 1, when he’ll officially be free, negotiations start and Fegan tells the kids which rides they’ll have to line up for hours to ride.

NBA: Preseason-Sacramento Kings at Los Angeles LakersConsider Dwight’s free agent experience to date, the longest (two seasons) and grisliest ever for him and both of his teams.

First, Dwight let it be known he wasn’t interested in leaving Orlando.

No problem. Everyone does that.

Then, tiring of the furor it caused, he opted in for the 2012-13 season, committing himself to another season in Orlando, and costing himself the chance to sign with Brooklyn, which had saved his max slot for last summer.

No one ever did that.

At this point, it was easy to see the Los Angeles-based Fegan had lost influence to the East Coast people around Dwight, who included his parents. Unfortunately, within days of Howard’s heart-warming decision, coach Stan Van Gundy announced that Dwight wanted him fired as a condition of re-upping.

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Then Dwight decided he’d rather be in Brooklyn, once more.

Unfortunately, opting in gave control to the Magic, who were disinclined to take a lesser package for the sake of Dwight’s happiness.

Unable to get a deal they liked from the Nets, they wound up trading Howard to the Lakers. The Lakers asked for no assurances from Howard, counting on their tradition—and their overpowering financial advantage—to win him over.

Not that they dreamed what a hard case Dwight is, in his likable, confused way.

The time approaches when he’ll have to make a grownup assessment of the options—but it’s not here yet.

You might not hear anything by July 1, including Dwight’s interest in donning his Superman cape and signing with a team on Krypton.

Don’t worry. It’s just the last golden moments of childhood floating away.

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