Dwight Howard is reportedly headed to the Lakers -- for real this time -- and it's the end of a journey that's been pretty miserable for everyone involved. It's been almost a year-and-a-half now, and since all this first got started there we've been able to enjoy...
- Late-night drunken phone calls from Orlando executives
- Trade deadline anarchy
- Kobe Bryant saying he doesn't want Dwight on the Lakers
- Dwight committing to stay in Orlando for another year
- Dwyane Wade openly mocking his "loyalty"
- The most awkward press conference in NBA history
- A fun damage control interview with ESPN
- Dwight announcing season-ending back surgery
- Orlando firing the most successful coach in franchise history to appease Dwight
- Dwight re-demanding a trade out of Orlando
- Dwight allegedly claiming he was blackmailed into waiving his opt-out clause
- Daryl Morey making 18 trades for a chance to land Dwight
- The Dwight-Nets blockbuster falling apart 37 different times
- And finally, the Lakers deal.
Just... So many memories! And of course, we've also been waterboarded with daily rumors for the past nine months or so, just in case anyone was threatening to stay sane through all this.
For the record, though, the fun officially began when Dwight tweeted this in early May last year:
Y does it seem like the writers of Orlando sentinel are tryna push me out of Orlando with dumb articles. It's annoying. Can I enjoy my summer and get ready for next season in Orlando. Pls. Same thing u guys did to Shaq. Smh
[pause so everyone can scream at their computer for 10 seconds]
... But see, it didn't have to be this insufferable. The problem all along was that Dwight was too meek to NOT profess his loyalty and risk the backlash, not understanding that if he was leaving Orlando there would be backlash regardless. And then the Magic allowed themselves to buy into Dwight's public babbling as reason to hold out hope for a change of heart. Nobody in the Orlando front office could be honest with themselves about the writing Dwight and his agents were scribbling on the wall every two weeks.
It's hard to tell which side was more childish and pathetic about all this, but if everyone -- or anyone -- had acted like reasonable adults and just accepted reality, this whole thing could've ended nine months earlier, with Dwight's reputation mostly in tact and Orlando getting a better deal.
Even a month ago, the Magic could've gotten a decent haul from the Nets or Rockets if they'd pulled the trigger. Instead, there they were two weeks ago, their GM still hoping to convince Dwight to change his mind. They deserved to get fleeced as badly as they did.
So yeah: In case anyone's still wondering how the Dwightmare got this bad, it all goes back to the main characters. Nobody could be honest with themselves early on, and eventually everyone suffered twice as much. Instead of a painless execution, we all had to watch as the Dwight Howard era died a slow, miserable death, sucking in Orlando coaches and executives, and torching a top five player's reputation. Mostly because nobody on either side was smart enough to just pull the trigger when they had the chance. God it was stupid, and everyone involved deserves our eternal disgust.
But now it's over! And as excruciating as all the posturing was, the end result lays the groundwork for a pretty incredible next few years. So, let's take stock of where we're headed.
THE LAKERS WILL BE THE BIGGEST TEAM ON EARTH
Thinking about the Lakers next year, this interview with Ramon Sessions comes to mind. Asked about the transition from the Cavs to L.A. last season, he told Hoops World's Alex Kennedy, "One time, I parked in the front of the hotel and started walking down the hallway. The next thing I know, there are five fans running after me in the hallway. It was crazy. They came out of nowhere and they were coming at me. I was just thinking, ‘What is going on?’"
"Nobody knows what its like," he continued. "People may think they know, but they don’t have any idea how much different it is to be a Laker. No disrespect to the other places that I’ve been, but it’s totally different out here. Even just walking around, it’s crazy. It’s the Lakers. You’re on T.V. every night and everyone knows who you are. I had paparazzi follow me. That’s a first, for sure. It’s wild out here. The Lakers are the show that everyone watches around here."
And that was an average Lakers team. Now they've got two former MVPs in the backcourt, the best post player in the game, the craziest player in sports, and The Dwight Howard Circus, just as a bonus. There's no guarantee it all comes together, but with today's media and the characters they're working with across the board -- and the obvious rivalries with OKC and Miami -- this will be the biggest team in sports, whether they dominate or not. On a related note:
GOOD GOD LAKERS FANS WILL BE INSUFFERABLE
Take the number of fairweather Heat fans and multiply it by 10,000, add the deafening arrogance and delusion of Celtics fans, then multiply it all by the spectacular douchebaggery native to Los Angeles, and finally, sprinkle in some Snoop Dogg, Bieber, and Nicholson.
The world is not ready.
I love Kobe, I love Ron Artest, I love Nash, and even Pau has grown on me the past few years. But because of the fans alone, it will be pretty impossible to root for this Lakers team.
I already hate this f***ing song.
KEVIN DURANT, A NATION TURNS ITS LONELY EYES TO YOU
If you thought people looked at KD as the Great Humble Hope before, just wait until the rest of America is facing the possibility of a Heat-Lakers Finals. As L.A. and Miami become more dominant and inescapable than any two teams we've seen in decades, the love affair with Saint Kevin will only get more intense. If he somehow beats them both, 12 months now he'll be the most popular player on earth. There's no pressure on him, either, because suddenly OKC's an underdog again.
So, just saying: with the whole world about to start debating whether the Lakers will go 72-10 or the Heat can repeat, KD has the chance to turn the whole league on its head and reap the rewards.
LIFE IS UNFAIR BUT WE LOVE IT ANYWAY
Wilt. Kareem. Shaq. Dwight. All Lakers, none of them drafted in L.A.
This is bullshit, but not surprising. We all knew the Lakers were evil. When SB Nation's Tom Ziller asked a few of us to put together ideas for "fixing the Lakers", I offered the #illuminati solution because if there's one team in sports that clearly sold its soul decades ago, it's good ol' L.A.. As I wrote back in May:
We should expect them to pull off something ridiculous here, just to screw with everyone. It's why the CP3 trade wasn't even a little bit surprising, and why they can probably put together something even bigger this summer.
I predicted Dwight and Deron, but in retrospect the Nash deal makes more sense because they were able to hang onto Pau.* The thing is, I don't even mind it all that much.** The NBA's more fun with a stupidly star-studded Lakers team, when we all get to make fun of the ridiculous bandwagon L.A. fans coming from all corners, cook up ridiculous conspiracy theories, and mostly, watch all the games and pull for someone to take them down.
It's still total bullshit that the Lakers have made the playoffs in 34 of the last 37 years and have won 10 titles since 1979 and can turn around and just reload on the fly like this, but who cares? It gives us a convincing evil empire to fear and loathe, and that's a thousand times more fun than living through another Spurs dynasty.
*(Is Mitch Kupchak eligible for MVP? Because he deserves an insane amount of credit for the way he's handled the past year-and-a-half in L.A. First, he landed Chris Paul and had the Lakers ready to contend for a title. Then, after David Stern pulled off the shadiest move in the history of a commissioner in pro sports, Kupchak didn't panic and trade Pau and Bynum for Dwight, and didn't bite while that offer remained on the table all year. In the meantime, not only did he turn Lamar Odom's contract into a massive cap exception, but he turned said exception into Steve Nash. Then he bided his time until Orlando panicked and gave him Dwight Howard, selling high on Andrew Bynum and giving L.A a foundation for the next 5-7 years at least. It's fun to call the Lakers evil and everything, but Kupchak and L.A. deserve a lot of credit for just being that much smarter than everyone else involved in this process.)
**(There will be plenty of people who say this L.A. Superteam proves once again that the NBA has no parity and small markets can't win, etc. But none of that's new. Every year you can pick out four or five teams early on with a shot at the title, and they're generally from bigger markets. The difference now is those teams are better than ever, setting the stage for a lot of batshit awesome basketball.)
DWIGHT HOWARD'S PERFECT ENDING
via Arash Markazi
Ah yes, the man at the center of all this. His agents were pushing Brooklyn from the beginning, he had no idea where he really wanted to go, it's been a disaster from start to finish, but... This all falls into place pretty nicely for Dwight. (And yes, it hurts to say that out loud.)
In Brooklyn, it would have been his team and he'd have been the most hated player in basketball this season, adding an extra layer of pressure and expectations in the biggest media market in the world. In Houston, he would have basically been playing with Orlando's roster in a tougher conference. Had he played out this season in Orlando and gone to Dallas next year, he would have inherited an aging roster, and again, he'd have been the biggest villain in basketball. All of those scenarios probably lead to Dwight crumbling under the weight of angry fans and unrealistic expectations.
In L.A.? It's Kobe's team, and Dwight's not the face of anything. Fans may still despise him, but the story is the team as a whole, not Dwight. L.A. is the one place he could have gone where the attention won't necessarily be on him, and as an added bonus, he's in by far the best basketball situation of his career.
Dwight's still the most dominant defender and rebounder in the league, and he will be for a while; the problem has always been that he's not quite good enough on offense to carry a title team. Now? His job is defense and rebounding first, and he's got the best passing big man in the league AND the best passing point guard in the league around to get him easy buckets on offense. There's no pressure to be the center of the offense; he can score 20-a-game simply by lurking around the rim for alley-oops and weak side dump-offs from Pau or Nash. (This is why the Lakers are so terrifying--Dwight Howard's essentially a luxury.)
In short: With the Lakers Dwight doesn't have to be the championship cornerstone he never-totally-was, and instead he can just be the freak of nature that he definitely, definitely is.
Also: I know Dwight's a devout Christian, but since he's in L.A. now we should all be rooting for a conversion. With the possible exception of Metta World Peace, no player in NBA history has ever been better suited to become a evangelical Scientologist than Dwight Howard. Hop aboard the Bridge to Total Freedom, Superman!
THE NBA JUST GOT A LOT MORE FUN
How do the Kobe-Dwight Lakers match up with the Heat now? Who's the title favorite? Can KD and the Thunder take the West regardless? Will Mike Brown spontaneously combust if things don't work out early on? If the Clippers flame out again, where does Chris Paul go? Will Nick Young and Spencer Hawes and Andrew Bynum please become best friends in Philly? What happens with the Nuggets and Grizzlies science experiments? Will Derrick Rose lead a mutiny against the Bulls front office? Can the Nets or Celtics challenge Miami? And... If it does come down to a Heat-Lakers Finals, does America side with Kobe or LeBron?
It's the most important point in all this: After months of saying "damnit, can Dwight please just get traded?" all it took was one night for that to become, "Holy shit, can the NBA just start tomorrow?" And for the first time in 15 months, we're finally ready to spend a few weeks and months and years talking about the Dwight Howard trade.