Some amazing giant signs are popping up around Los Angeles this week. One can be seen on the side of Staples Center. Another is on a billboard high above Hollywood Boulevard. The signs contain only one word, yet there can be no debate about its meaning.
Accompanying a photo of Dwight Howard, the signs simply read, "Stay."
They are amazing because they mark the first time since the end of the Laker season that I've seen someone around town actually begging Dwight Howard to stay.
The Lakers arranged for half a dozen signs in hopes of making a final push for their center to re-sign with them after the July 1 free agency period begins. The Lakers believe he is their future. The Lakers act as if they are doomed without him.
The Lakers are among the few who really feel that way.
Since Howard collapsed in the Lakers' first-round playoff series against the San Antonio Spurs, ending the Spurs four-game sweep by getting literally swept off the floor by the officials, the buzz about his return has quieted to a whimper. Before the Lakers act so desperate to give the keys to their franchise to a guy who prefers the passenger seat, they should talk to their many fans who don't agree.
For the first time, I'm hearing the most loyal and passionate Laker fans resigned to a rebuilding year while awaiting the free-agent riches -- LeBron James? Carmelo Anthony? -- of 2014. I'm hearing Laker fans willing to put up with one season of mediocrity rather than give their team to a guy who could be the centerpiece of years of mediocrity.
Folks seem weary of Howard's lack of consistent intensity. Folks seem wary of Howard's ability to truly take the torch from Kobe Bryant, who is truly on the verge of passing it. The Lakers' open love for Howard seems not only awkward for an organization that is much bigger and successful than him, but also a bit unseemly considering they never made this sort of push for Kobe Bryant when he could have opted out of his contract several years ago.
If the Lakers truly are still the Lakers, with the swagger of 16 championship rings, with the trust in the creativity of Mitch Kupchak, and with the belief that their brand is still among basketball's best, then they will realize that life will ultimately be better without Dwight Howard. And they would rework those signs in a hurry.
It wouldn't be hard. They just need to change one word.
From "Stay" to "Go."