The Los Angeles Lakers entered this postseason as the favorites to win another title. After being swept by the Dallas Mavericks, the Lakers were suddenly "too old" and "too slow". Five-time NBA champion and Laker great Magic Johnson notably said that Lakers owner Jerry Buss needed to "blow this thing up"; in other words, initiate project roster overhaul. There has been speculation that one of Los Angeles' primary desires this offseason will be to trade for Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard. Howard is signed through the 2013 season, but can opt out after 2012. Los Angeles isn't planning to wait until then.
Conventional wisdom says that the Orlando Magic will follow in the footsteps of the Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets, trading their superstar rather than watching him walk away in free agency. Certainly a package that centers around 23-year-old center Andrew Bynum would be enticing for Orlando GM Otis Smith. Of course, the Lakers aren't the only team interested in Howard. New Jersey, New York, Chicago are all reportedly intent on pursuing the three-time Defensive Player of the Year.
Regardless of where he ends up, we know that he's at least going somewhere?...right?
Maybe not. This is what Howard told the Orlando Sentinel on Monday: "I want to start my own path and I want people to follow my path and not just follow somebody else's path. I want to have my own path, and I want to start that here in Orlando. But I can't do it alone. Not only do I need the right teammates, but I need the city behind me. That's the only way it's going to get done. We can change this small city that we have -- this small market that we have -- and we can make it a big market."
It would seem that Dwight wants to stay in Orlando only if Otis Smith can upgrade the roster enough to put them in position to win championships. After losing to the mediocre Atlanta Hawks in the first-round of this year's playoffs, it is clear that this team is far away from championship-caliber.
Smith faces a herculean task. He has indicated that he will not consider trading his five-time All-Star center. A bold move indeed. If he sticks to his plan, Orlando faces two very different possibilities: 1) The roster will be revamped to the extent that Howard feels like he can win a championship where he is; an extension is signed 2) Howard signs with another team in free agency, allowing Orlando to suffer a Cleveland-like fate.
If Smith fails - if he fails to get Howard enough help - it would behoove him to go against his word and make a trade. If he still refuses to trade the Atlanta native, Smith risks the possibility of having his intransigence leave this franchise in the cellar of the Eastern Conference for multiple years in the future.
Of course, all of this speculation can be avoided if Howard starts his "own path" in Orlando. Howard's words may seem candid, but didn't we hear similar words from a certain twenty-six year-old superstar who decided to take his talents to South Beach? The allure of the path to a championship in LA will prove to be too much for the Hollywood personality of Dwight Howard to deny. Enjoy him while you can, Orlando.