In an update to his autobiography “Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success”, Phil Jackson went into detail on what happened when the Lakers met with Dwight Howard during free agency last summer, and how an answer from Kobe Bryant might have sealed the deal on Dwight’s exit from Los Angeles.
The Lakers had a disastrous 2012-13 season. After acquiring Dwight and Steve Nash, the team went winless in eight preseason games, then lost four of their first five games in the regular season. Under pressure to contend and win a championship, head coach Mike Brown was fired. After considering the prospect of bringing Phil back, the Lakers hired Mike D’Antoni instead. They went 28-12 to finish the season, and managed to sneak into the playoffs as an eight seed.
However, with less than a week to go before the playoffs, Kobe tore his Achilles tendon and was out for the year. The Lakers were swept by the Spurs in the first round.
As teammates, Kobe and Dwight did not exactly mesh in their first season together. Kobe is all business, all the time. Dwight is more jovial, and likes to have a laugh even if the team is going through a slump. The differences in their approach made it hard to envision them together for the long haul.
Dwight became a free agent after the 2012-13 season, and many assumed that despite any potential rift with Kobe, the lure of being the next franchise center in Los Angeles and the fact the Lakers could offer more money than anyone else on the market would be enough to bring him back.
But as Phil details in his new book update excerpt, which you can read in full here, it was a little bit more complicated than that:
During his postseason interview, Dwight asked for assurance that I would be coming back to coach the team, but Mitch quickly disabused him of that notion. He asked me to back him up on that and not send out a conflicting message. I agreed and told Mitch that I would reach out to Dwight and encourage him to sign with the Lakers. He never answered any of my messages.
This confirms a rumor that was floating around at the time of Dwight’s free agent meetings. It was believed he asked the Lakers to remove D’Antoni as a condition of his return. According to Phil, this was true.
The Lakers brought Kobe and Nash in to speak to Dwight in their final pitch meeting. Phil thought Kobe had a positive impact on Dwight, but he said something that might have helped make his decision to leave Los Angeles a lot easier:
Kobe made a moving speech during the pitch, promising to teach Dwight the secret of winning championships that he’d learned from the best in the game. If the meeting had ended there, it might have worked. But after the presentation, Dwight asked Kobe what he was planning to do after he recovered from his Achilles injury. Was this going to be his last year? “No,” replied Kobe. “I’m planning to be around for three or four more years.” At that point, according to others in the room, Dwight’s eyes went blank and he drifted away. In his mind, the game was over.
If this is true, it means that Dwight needed two things to return to the Lakers: a new coach, and a guarantee Kobe would get out of his way after just one more season. The thought of sharing the spotlight with Kobe for more than that was too much for Dwight to consider. Instead, he chose less money and a partnership with James Harden in Houston where he was again knocked out of the first round this past spring.
What do you think?
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