When Dwight Howard decided to leave the Los Angeles Lakers, it felt like he had personal reasons for doing so. As Ramona Shelburne of ESPN L.A. reports, the franchise center may have been upset at the refusal of key teammates to publicly defend him as he played through injury last season.
During the 2012-13 season, Howard consistently battled through pain as he recovered from offseason back surgery, which he had prematurely returned from. As criticism towards the big man built up over the course of the season, Shelburne says Howard felt disrespected by the lack of public support he received from veterans like Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash.
As part of a lengthy feature on where the Lakers go in the post-Dwight era, Shelburne describes a bizarre scene in which Howard confronted Kobe and Nash about their silence:
"That tension came back to the surface when Bryant and Nash met with Howard last Tuesday. Howard came at them hard, telling them how upset he was that they never publicly went to bat to for him while he was injured.
He felt like they'd disrespected the effort he'd given by coming back from back surgery so quickly. He felt like they had done little to mitigate the criticism he was hearing for his play.
Bryant and Nash were stunned. He'd never told them any of this before, or asked them to defend him publicly. They'd known he was injured and appreciated he came back to play many months before the initial time frame given following his back surgery, but the code among players is that if you don't say anything to your teammates about an injury, it's something you can handle on your own."
Long known as a player who cares deeply about his public image, it's not difficult to imagine Howard becoming upset at how the media covered him throughout the season. Considering he left millions on the table, experiences like this likely played into his decision to sign with the Rockets.
Shelburne says that after Howard explained himself to Bryant and Nash, the two legends "digested what he had to say, and told him they understood him better now."
They also encouraged using the miscommunication as a learning experience, suggesting, "If they tried it all again next season, things would be different. He should come to them with these kind of issues, instead of letting them fester. They all would learn and grow from this."
Kobe also reportedly told Dwight that he wouldn't simply be able to avoid problems by signing elsewhere. "No matter where he went or what team he chose to play for, there would be issues to deal with," Bryant told him, so he simply needed to commit somewhere.
As Shelburne notes, Dwight ultimately took Kobe's advice -- he just chose the wrong team.