When it comes to casting an adoring eye on an alluring basketball beauty and then seducing them and capturing their heart, the Lakers have been the Don Juan of the NBA for years.
From Wilt Chamberlain to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Shaquille O’Neal to Pau Gasol they set their sights high and routinely get what they want.
But the greatest gigolos will tell you the most captivating conquests are the ones that play hard to get, which probably explains the Lakers infatuation with Dwight Howard despite the signals he keeps sending he wants nothing to do with them.
The wise ones eventually get the picture, bow out gracefully and move on to their next object of admiration.
The foolish ones continue their quest, futile as it turns to be, and end up dejected at best, brokenhearted at worst.
Sometime within the next month or so, we’re going to find out whether the Lakers are wise or foolish.
Because it’s looking more and more like Howard does not feel for the Lakers nearly as strongly as they feel for him.
And if that truly is the case, how they handle the breakup will symbolize the conviction, wisdom and poise they’ll carry into the future.
Uncertain and uncharted as it might be.
If you haven’t been paying attention the past week or so, Howard is sending subtle yet obvious messages he wants to be anywhere but Los Angeles.
The bigger point being, for whatever reason the Lakers just don’t do it for him.
The reality being, they never did.
Which makes his increasingly likely departure no big surprise.
The signs have always led to that conclusion.
He arrived here from the Orlando Magic last summer reluctantly, his begrudging acceptance of his plight more about his disdain for the Magic than his love for the Lakers.
He was here only because he didn’t want to be there.
If you were paying attention, you knew that.
As far back as two summers ago when the possibility of Howard leaving Orlando via trade began surfacing, he always seemed wary about playing for the Lakers.
We all foolishly ignored the hints, arrogantly believing once he stepped into the hallowed shoes of the Lakers he would immediately see the light and pledge the rest of his career to adding more championship banners.
Meanwhile, his true feelings were easy to detect.
Howard didn’t want to follow in the footsteps of Shaquille O’Neal, those around him suggested.
He was opposed to playing with the demanding Kobe Bryant, some close to him floated.
He wanted to create his own legacy with good friend Deron Williams in Brooklyn, not ride the coattails of the Lakers, people in his camp insisted.
The Lakers, unaccustomed to players not immediately falling head over heels for them, traded for Howard anyway, figuring the allure of Los Angeles, the iconic winning culture and the intrigue of assuming the reins when Bryant and Pau Gasol bowed out in 2014 were sufficient selling points to sway Howard into staying.
That, and the fact they could offer him more money and more security than anyone else when he became a free agent, of course.
The trade itself should not be construed as a mistake.
And the risk was worth it.
If the best the Lakers get is dodging the bullet of a long-term commitment to Andrew Bynum, the gamble paid off.
On the other hand, landing a superstar center like Howard and convincing him to stay for five more seasons was a coup the Lakers could not ignore chasing.
The problem is, Dwight Howard doesn’t want to be here.
He keeps telling us this too, in his own indelible way in which his lips never move yet his thoughts echo loud and clear.
Last summer it was the shadow of O’Neal and the rift with Bryant and the dream of playing with Williams in Brooklyn pushing the Lakers down on his wish list.
Now it’s a reluctance to play for Mike D’Antoni and a lack of faith in Lakers President Jim Buss and the significant state taxes in California compared with tax-free Texas pulling him away.
I mean, how many more Lakers faults need to be pointed out before we realize Howard just doesn’t love them?
Truth is, he has some compelling reasons to want to play elsewhere.
The Lakers are an aging, mismatched collection of talent that frankly isn’t very good right now.
And while it’s prudent to stress to Howard the financial flexibility looming in 2014, when the Lakers can reach into the free agent pool and pluck a superstar-caliber player to place by his side, there are no guarantees that will come to fruition.
If not, the soon-to-be 30-year-old Howard could be looking at a prolonged rebuilding process.
Meanwhile, two ready-made championship contenders in Houston and Golden State can expedite his title aspirations.
Setting emotions aside, even the most ardent Lakers’ fan can understand where Howard might be coming from.
That doesn’t make him a bad guy, just someone cognizant of the expiration date on his career and the urgency to go some place where championships are more attainable.
That’s why I can’t blame him if he leaves — my only complaint being the way he’s handling the situation.
Howard, despite all the smiles and laughter and carrying on, is a sensitive soul who hangs on every word said and written about him. That sensitivity results in deep cuts when criticism is pushed his way or when he’s painted in a negative light.
The irony being, his fear of looking like the bad guy paralyzes him into silence and creates apprehension into speaking honestly on his own behalf.
Rather than hearing directly from Howard this is nothing personal against the Lakers and Los Angeles, but that at this stage of his career he wants to play for a team better suited to win — we hear second-hand information about discontent with the coach and the superstar teammate and the owner.
And that makes Howard look like a bad guy — when all he has to do is be honest and the reasonable fans will understand.
As for the Lakers, they have some decisions to make.
Not yet ready to abandon their pursuit, they have a month remaining to convince him to stay.
But waiting too long could burn them.
At some point over the next two weeks they need to find out his true intentions — and if he owes them anything at all it’s the grace of honesty.
If he wants to go, fine.The Lakers will have time to seek out a potential sign-and-trade in which they receive young talent to build around while protecting payroll flexibility in 2014.
Or maybe they let him walk, preserving all of their 2014 cap space.
As for Lakers fans, just don’t act surprised if he leaves.
The signs have pointed to that all along.