Lakers lose Howard, could win in long run

It’s over!

 **Continues refreshing Twitter to confirm it’s over**

Yes, yes it seems to actually be over! The ostensibly never-ending saga of who, what and where will make Dwight Howard happy has reached a conclusion (for now) and all of you Lakers fans can pack up the circus tent and return to normalcy.

While Howard’s finger prints have spanned most of the lower 48 states over the past 24 months, having been rumored to play for Dallas, Brooklyn, Atlanta, Golden State and having actually played for Orlando and Los Angeles, the seven-footer finally chose to take his talents deep into the heart of Texas as the new big man for the Houston Rockets. While the Lakers aren’t used to the role of the scorned lover, they should probably be feeling both insulted and relieved.

I wrote a little over two months ago (May 1, “LA Lakers must make tough decisions”) that the Lakers should let Howard walk away and begin their rebuilding process now, when they have the most financial flexibility. Only one player, Steve Nash, is currently signed past this upcoming season, and Nash wouldn’t be that difficult to trade.

So the Lakers now sit with a rehabbing Kobe Bryant, a likely-to-be-amnestied Metta World Peace, one more year of Pau Gasol and two more years of Nash. Steve Blake, Jordan Hill, Jodie Meeks, Chris Duhon and Robert Sacre are the other players signed for just the upcoming season. That’s not a team striking fear in Western Conference powers like San Antonio, Oklahoma City and, now, Houston. It’s a team that should be selling off its remaining assets and looking toward 2014 and beyond.

Their biggest asset is

Gasol. As long as he doesn’t take a drastic step backwards, Gasol will be one of the most sought after trade commodities for a contender around next season’s trade deadline. Or, as an expiring contract, he’d be a prime target for a team with buyer’s remorse on another high-priced player who could become a building block for the Lakers (Rudy Gay? Josh Smith?).

The odd part of the whole Howard saga is that I think the result worked out best for everyone. The Lakers don’t have to continue worrying whether or not this guy could carry the franchise for the next 10 years. They get to begin a rebuilding phase at a very opportunistic time in their payroll and balance sheets and they can be a major player in the 2014 free-agent class that could feature LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Paul George, Danny Granger and DeMarcus Cousins.

The Rockets can now boast to having two of the 10 best players in the league — Howard and James Harden — along with one of the game’s best bargains in Chandler Parsons and a strong supporting cast of young assets. Howard doesn’t have to carry the offense or have the ball dumped into the post every possession, as he did in Orlando, but he has a teammate in Harden who can utilize Howard’s amazingly efficient pick-and-roll skills better than anyone in Los Angeles could. He also gets to work on a daily basis with perhaps the best post-up player ever in head coach Kevin McHale.

 When some relationships aren’t working out, one party is just waiting for the other to initiate the break-up. That’s what this Lakers offseason has felt like and many of the Lakers fans I’ve spoken with agree. L.A. wasn’t sold on Howard being their next franchise guy. While they didn’t publicly want him choosing another suitor, I think that there were some private sighs of relief when he did.

They could have had a wishy-washy big man with a bad back on a maximum contract, a $30 million player with one Achilles and unrealistic pipe dreams of being competitive this season. Instead, they have all options available. They can look at Kobe Bryant and tell him he can play as much longer or retire as soon as he pleases, while also having a hand in choosing his ultimate successor.

Houston will be much better than L.A. in the short term, but the Lakers won’t be rebuilding very long and “losing out” on Howard is the main reason why not.

• ‘My Thoughts Exactly’ appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays in The Garden Island. Email David Simon your comments or questions to dsimon@thegardenisland.com. Follow David on Twitter @SimonTGI

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