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Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, right, chats with center Dwight Howard during the first half of the Lakers' NBA basketball game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Monson: With Howard’s exit, Lakers join NBA’s unwashed masses
NBA » Superstar center couldn’t co-exist with D’Antoni’s system, Kobe’s shadow

| Tribune Columnist

First Published Jul 11 2013 11:48 am • Last Updated Jul 11 2013 10:53 pm

Not only is nobody around here shedding tears over the sad episode of "As the Spalding Turns" featuring the Lakers — cue the heavy organ music — but everybody’s getting a good laugh, too. This is lowbrow NBA entertainment, flowing out of the league’s marquee franchise, a club that has had its way over the past 30 years more than any other.

The whole thing’s collapsed into that empty melodrama. And there’s not a championship in sight for a town that has become more tinsel than title. The Fates have conspired so disruptively there, the Clippers have replaced the Lakers as the only L.A. team to be taken seriously.

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We join the story today in the aftermath of Dwight Howard jilting the team and the town, having bolted for a better place, a better mistress. What’s this … Houston? Who’s this … the Rockets?

You just don’t do that to the Lakers. You do that to Orlando, to Cleveland, to Memphis. Not to L.A. The late Jim Murray, longtime columnist for the Los Angeles Times, was a good guy and a great writer. But he used to speak of smaller markets as somehow being undeserving of stars. A true star needed a big stage on which to perform. He needed the bright lights of New York or Los Angeles. Anything less was … well, less.

The Lakers, and all of Southern California, came to reflect that same belief. Nobody turns his back on L.A. They wanted Howard, as was demonstrated by the billboards put up by the Lakers all around the Southland, asking — begging — D12 to stay. That, in and of itself, was evidence of change blowing in the smoggy wind. That, and the fact that the Lakers now must make do with Chris Kaman.

The Lakers, so used to plucking great players from other teams, now have been plucked themselves.

Sometimes the rules of attraction make no sense. But, in this case, they do. Look, Howard is kind of a baby who has been disingenuous and, even worse, gotten good coaches fired. He wants attention the way a lot of insecure people want it — on his terms. Look here and love me. Despite early promise that he would become a force in the NBA, he’s become more of a sideshow. Most of that is his fault. But his move to Houston isn’t a complete admission that he is weak.

Reports have surfaced that Howard might have re-signed with the Lakers had they committed to getting rid of Kobe Bryant after Bryant’s contract runs out next season. Amnestying him immediately, given his Achilles injury, would have been more preferable.

If true, that indicates one of two things or perhaps both: Howard didn’t want to play in the shadow of Bryant, or he thought with some $30 million committed to Kobe, now compromised by age and injury, the Lakers had no shot at real contention.

Talking for the first time on Wednesday since Howard made his decision, Bryant said: "I think everybody is cut differently. [Howard] has his way of leading that he feels like would be most effective and would work for him, and obviously the way we’ve gone about it with this organization and the leaders that we’ve had — myself, Magic and Kareem — we’ve done it a different way."

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Bryant added: "I haven’t followed enough to hear what he’s kind of said about going to Houston and some of the reasons why he went to Houston. I don’t know. I don’t. You look at me, you really think once a guy decides to go someplace else, I’m going to waste my time trying to figure out why that happened?"

On the other hand, there have been whispers that one of the reasons is Howard’s dislike for Kobe. It’s been said that Bryant’s meeting with Howard in the run-up to his decision, which was supposed to be a recruiting effort, actually backfired, Dwight wholly turned off by Kobe’s I’ll-teach-you-how-to-win pitch.

Shaquille O’Neal ripped Howard, saying he couldn’t handle the heat in L.A. Steve Nash told ESPN radio that "Dwight wasn’t comfortable here and didn’t want to be here." He also said: "I’ve heard he said to the media that he never quite felt embraced in L.A., he never quite felt maybe supported. Really just never quite felt comfortable at home, and I don’t know that that’s anybody’s fault."

From a basketball standpoint, Howard’s nod toward Houston makes sense. In L.A., he was part of a Mike D’Antoni system that wasn’t suited for his talents. Howard had to deal with the gravitational and egotistical pull of Kobe. In Houston, his game will be easily highlighted, playing alongside James Harden.

Not saying Howard is blameless for the debris still smoldering around the Lakers. It’s just that Los Angeles isn’t for everyone. And Howard’s decision to dump the Lakers for the Rockets and to leave L.A. for Houston shouldn’t stand by itself as some sort of defect or shortcoming.

Chris Kaman will handle L.A. just fine.

GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.

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