Dwight Howard’s conference call yesterday didn’t last long. In fact, it cost scribes only a quarter of an hour to sit through, and even less to consider his statements. If nothing else, he was consistent in his message: Whatever excess baggage he may have brought with him to Los Angeles, he’s looking to the future with eyes wide open and prepared to do whatever he can to help the Lakers win. And, taken in the context of all the workout and training videos of him surfacing on social media since he signed a non-guaranteed contract two weeks ago, his pronouncements come across as genuine and heartfelt.
Of course, Howard has been there and done that. Parenthetically, critics can’t be faulted for viewing his pledge as much of the same old, same old. After all, there’s a reason he will be with his sixth team in the last four years. Since headlining the Magic at the start of the decade as a bona fide Most Valuable Player candidate, he has left behind a trail of broken promises that compel those associated with him to suffer from buyer’s remorse. Heck, the Grizzlies didn’t even want him to play a single game for them. And among those he left in his wake: the very same Lakers who now view him as a suitable replacement to the injured DeMarcus Cousins.
Make no mistake: The Lakers are desperate. They need someone — and, as their signing of Howard proves, anyone — to man the five spot along with returning JaVale McGee. Given All-Star Anthony Davis reluctance to play significant minutes at center, they’re counting on their latest acquisition to be motivated by his previous failings enough to toe the line and provide exactly what they need — no less and, just as important, no more. They don’t expect him to put up humongous numbers. Far from it. They just want him to do the requisite dirty work so that their Big Two can operate with maximum efficiency.
It’s a gamble, to be sure, and the dice Davis wields has come up with snake eyes far too often for comfort. The Lakers know the extent of the risk they’re taking, which is why they insisted on an opt-out clause that effectively puts their buy-in at zero dollars. At the same time, they’re crossing their fingers the potential he brings with him will pay off handsomely. And, so far, he’s walking the walk as much as he’s talking the talk. As he noted yesterday, “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.”
For Howard, the good news is that his teammates believe him. Needless to say, he wouldn’t have been welcomed to the Lakers had top dogs LeBron James and Davis not signed off on it. For how long is the question. So far, he seems bent on retaining his focus on the task at hand. “I don’t plan to allow anything to distract me from helping this team win a championship,” he said with no small measure of humility. And fans are slowly taking notice, if still staying skeptical. They don’t merely have a right to doubt. They’re right to doubt, and it’s up to him to win them over.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.