For the past few weeks, Dwight Howard’s every move has been documented. By the time the Los Angeles Lakers' big man chose to skip town to sign with the Houston Rockets, sports writers had gone over every possible scenario for Howard from now until 2015. No, seriously—some are already speculating about what Howard will do when his opt-out clause hits in 2015. Yes, that means that we will likely live through another 'will-he-or-won’t-he' scenario in three years just like we did the past two seasons.
Howard’s immediate future is with the Rockets and I think that's the best decision he could have made. There was a time when the Lakers were a prime location for a star like Howard. But that was before Jim Buss took over from his now-deceased father Jerry (who had a knack for building consistent winners that no luxury tax could stop). And more recently, that was when Kobe Bryant was the best player in the league and a combination of winning and the smooth moves of supercoach Phil Jackson took the sting off his often insufferable attitude.
Those days are, at least temporarily, over.
The Lakers are in such disarray they’re reportedly reaching out to Lamar Odom—who they unceremoniously dismissed from the team just a couple seasons ago and can’t even be considered a poor man’s Howard at this point. The Lakers are so without an immediate plan that they’re banking on Lebron James or Carmelo Anthony leaving their teams (the Miami Heat and NY Knicks, respectively) to sign with them when they become free agents. And maybe if that happens a few years of missing the playoffs will be but a blip on Los Angeles’ radar. But for now there’s no reason for a talent like Howard to kowtow to the Lakers’ broken and scolding superstar and endure the endless teasing and insults by former Lakers Magic Johnson and Shaq.
By signing with the Rockets, Howard has freed himself from the Lakers circus while landing in a big enough market that he can continue to raise his profile without the kind of scrutiny afforded to guys who play in Los Angeles or New York. In Houston, Howard joins a team that was already a contender last season led by James Harden and Chandler Parsons. He also joins the team of his mentor one of the best centers to ever play the game, Hakeem Olajuwon. Plus Rockets General Manager* Daryl Morey gets that Howard performed rather well last season for a guy who played with a torn labrum and chronic back issues. If Howard is meant to be a consistent top performer in the NBA and raise his game to the next level Houston is the perfect place for him to prove himself.
There’s no doubt that Howard has struggled with his public image although much of the negativity surrounding him is the result of a can’t-stop-won’t-stop media environment. Still, it’s clear that he’s a bit of a goofball, a hopeless people pleaser, and an alleged eschewer of the 'Wrap It Up' campaign. But he’s also in the prime of his career, a powerhouse on defense, a versatile offensive player, and a 27 year old with plenty of time to revamp his brand. Signing with the Rockets is a good way to usher in a new start.
*This article has been corrected. A previous version referred to Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey as the owner of the basketball team.
Jessica Danielle is a speechwriter and blogger who covers sports with wit and ardor at Playerperspective.com.