As I had previously prognosticated in my column on Forbes, Dwight Howard is leaving the Lakers to sign with the Houston Rockets. This signing dramatically alters the power dynamic in the NBA.
My prediction was not based on any inside knowledge, but an understanding of how free agents think. Howard had his own unique way to evaluate options. Long-term financial gain, short-term economics, family, geographical location, profile and endorsements, winning team, coaching, role, system, and teammates all factor in differently for different people. Houston was able to speak to what was critical to Howard, and the Lakers weren't.
The Lakers were never going to force Kobe Bryant to exit and until he leaves the Lakers are his team. Their coach insists on a run-and-gun system that does not feature a heightened role for a big man. Laker fans never really warmed up to Howard and he was injured all year and felt unappreciated. Because of the lack of state income taxes in Texas, Howard may come out ahead after four years plus the first year of a new contract as compared to the max Laker deal. And the Lakers do not figure to be very competitive in the next year. Howard did not care about the tradition and history of the Lakers -- he wanted to win now and be featured. The Lakers could not tailor their pitch to what was most critical to Howard-a winning team he could be the centerpiece for with a supportive environment.
Houston is not done making moves. The Rockets had already made a series of moves to clear cap space to sign Howard. This creates a new superpower in the West Conference to compete with Oklahoma City, Memphis, the LA Clippers and an aging San Antonio,. Houston is a financially booming city with major resources and a population that puts it number four in the U.S.
As for the Lakers, they have an aging team. Kobe Bryant is coming off an Achilles tendon injury with an unpredictable recovery schedule. Coach Mike D'Antoni allowed him to insist on playing more games than any aging superstar should. Power forward Pau Gasol is older and he and the coach don't see eye-to-eye. Steve Nash was slowed by injuries last year and is aging. It will be "wait until next year" next season. In 2014 the Lakers will have the cap room to sign one and possibly two premiere free agents and start to rebuild. Los Angeles is not a city known for long-suffering, patient fans.
That explosive sound you hear coming from the Southwest is a dramatic changing of the guard in the NBA.