HOUSTON -- Generally, the Lakers don’t like to talk about Dwight Howard, hoping his decision to leave them will go away and hide in a file cabinet of awkward moments in team history.
They don't have a choice Thursday. Staggering from two horrid road games in a week, the Lakers play at Houston, Howard's new team.
The Lakers finished practice Wednesday, the day after another bad road loss, and were blitzed by Howard questions.
So what exactly happened in July when Howard chose Houston's offer of four years and $88 million instead of the Lakers' offer of five years and $118 million? “We knew there were some problems and we didn't know which way he would go,” Lakers Coach Mike D'Antoni said Wednesday.
Kobe Bryant and Howard didn't exactly hit it off last season. Bryant was too serious for Howard's taste and Howard too goofy for Bryant's deathly serious outlook.
There was also the pressure of playing for the Lakers, following the legacies of centers George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O'Neal, a constant critic of Howard's.
D'Antoni didn't deny that his offensive schemes last season factored into Howard's departure, given that last season the Lakers had Bryant, Steve Nash and Howard on the court.
“It's tough when you've got two Hall of Famers, three Hall of Famers, on the floor at the same time. Too bad. You're not the No. 1 guy we go to,” D’Antoni said, referring to Howard.
D'Antoni then mentioned other factors that led to Howard’s unhappiness last season, including his return from back surgery. “But I think a lot of it is you're not healthy, a lot of pressure, people are squawking. There's just a lot of stuff that piled on and you can't fault him for it.”
The Rockets (4-1) have been solid so far other this season. The Lakers (2-3) on the other hand are losing road games by an average margin of 25 points.
Bryant did not talk to reporters Wednesday but Pau Gasol tried to shine light on what happened last season between Howard and Bryant.
“There was definitely a lack of understanding and connection,” Gasol said. “I don't know how much tension it was. There was days it was fine and everybody was on the same page. When things did get a little rough, usually that's when the tensions occur and come up. It was a rough year, a lot of things didn't go our way and that made it that much more difficult.”
After a season of hanging out near the three-point line, Gasol was privately thrilled to get his post position back when Howard left.
But Gasol acknowledged missing Howard on defense, where the Lakers are toiling toward the bottom in points allowed this season.
“You don't have that type of shot-blocker back there that will bail you out some of the time,” Gasol said. “And he's also a guy that gets his hands on balls, he's aggressive, gets a couple steals every game. These are extra possessions. We have to make up for that in different areas.”
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