- Dave McMenamin, ESPN Staff Writer
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HOUSTON -- The Los Angeles Lakers practiced in "The House that Dwight Chose" on Wednesday, preparing for their upcoming game against the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center, which features a giant poster of Dwight Howard on the front of it, complete with the tag line, "A new age."
A little more than four months ago, it was Staples Center that had Howard's image plastered to the side of it, accompanied by the message, "Stay." The former three-time defensive player of the year left, and the Lakers were again left rehashing the memories of what went wrong last season.
"He made his decision and felt like that was the best choice for him and so you respect him for it and that's it," Lakers forward Pau Gasol said. "A lot of things went wrong last year for sure. There was a lot of adversity. Nothing really clicked. So it was a tough year for everyone. Not for one individual. Pretty much for the entire team it was a tough year to go through."
One relationship that did not click, in particular, was the one between Howard and Kobe Bryant. Howard told reporters in Los Angeles on Monday after the Rockets played the Clippers that he and Bryant no longer speak to one another.
Bryant told reporters during the team's media day in September that he didn't "really give a s---" about Howard's decision anymore, but delved further into the subject Tuesday during an interview with NBA TV.
"We have two different personalities," Bryant said. "There's a certain way that I believe you have to approach the game in order to win championships. He had a different way that he felt like would be best and because of that it was tough to see eye to eye on [a] daily basis."
Bryant did not speak to reporters Wednesday, returning to the team hotel to work out after attending the Lakers' film session at Toyota Center. Gasol was asked to describe the Bryant-Howard dynamic.
"There was definitely a lack of understanding and connection," Gasol said. "I don't know how much tension there was. There was days when it was fine and everybody was on the same page and when things 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."
Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni pointed to the Lakers' 28-12 record to close the regular season as evidence that Bryant and Howard were able to coexist.
"Sometimes it gets complicated and personalities get complicated and it's a situation where it never worked out, to a certain degree," D'Antoni said. "Though towards the end I thought they were good. They were good together."
D'Antoni sarcastically feigned ignorance when he was asked about Howard on Wednesday -- employing a similar joke he used in a news conference during the team's preseason trip to China when he responded with, "Who?" when asked about his former center.
"It's too bad," D'Antoni said. "We would have loved for him to be here in L.A. It didn't work out. We turned the page and go on. That's about it. We knew there were some problems. We didn't know which way it would go and he just picked Houston. I'm sure he'll make the best of it, and we'll try to make the best of it."
Howard has thrived in Houston so far, averaging 17.4 points, 14.6 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game during the Rockets' 4-1 start. D'Antoni, who acknowledged that Howard expressed his desire to be a bigger part of the Lakers' offense when he was in L.A., found it ironic that Howard chose the Rockets' system as his new home.
"It's strange, they do exactly the same thing here [in Houston] that we tried to do," D'Antoni said with a smirk. "So, that's fine. We're cool."
Howard averaged 10.7 field goal attempts and 9.5 free throw attempts per game with the Lakers last season and is averaging nearly identical numbers in Houston (10.8 shots, 9.6 free throws).
"It's tough when you get three Hall of Famers on the floor at the same time," D'Antoni said of Howard sharing the court with Bryant, Gasol and Nash last season. "Oh, too bad. You're not the No. 1 guy we go to."
Gasol was ready to shift his focus to doing something about the Lakers' 2-3 record, including a 0-2 road mark, and leave the past in the past.
"It was his first time being in a free-agent position," Gasol said. "He had the freedom to pick his future and he picked it. It wasn't with the Lakers, it was with the Rockets. So, good luck. That's it."
1dSteve Ilardi and Jeremias Engelmann