I think of the Los Angeles Lakers, as a team hamstrung. But not by what you would expect them to be hamstrung by.
Through 52 games the Lakers are 24-28; tenth in the conference (three and a half games out of the final playoff spot). Those who hate the Lakers will say it is what they deserve and rejoice in their misery. Those who are Laker fans will scratch their heads in frustration and wonder how a team that has Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, and Steve Nash can’t trip and fall into 30 wins to this point. Then there are those who have common sense, and an eye for problems. The types that see what the issue is and let it gnaw at them even when it isn’t theirs.
That issue for the Lakers is crystal clear: Dwight Howard.
Not salary caps, position players (even though their bench could use another piece) or anything like that. This is all Dwight. On Sunday I had the chance to catch the Lakers play the Heat; I wasn’t expecting much from the Lakers given they were down by 20 to the Charlotte Bobcats a couple of nights earlier and needed a run at the end they couldn’t count on against the Heat. What I saw was a lot worse, I saw Kobe Bryant (having one of his best overall seasons since 2008-2009) give them 28 points, nine assists, and six rebounds. Did anyone happen to also see Steve Nash go for 15 points (10 in the first half) and penetrate/create in the open lane?
Of course there was Dwight, who put up good numbers (15 points, nine rebounds, and two blocks), but seems to bring the overall mood on the court down with his attitude. He got into it with Nash (on a pass he thought should have been up) not on the bench or in a huddle out of respect for the two-time league MVP (and one of the more vocal Dwight supporters) but in the middle of a fast break by Miami after a turnover on national television. This isn’t what champions or those expecting to be paid like champions do. This isn’t how franchise players are supposed to act when they expect to command respect.
Listening to interviews, you sense Howard is a guy who can’t let go of things when they don’t go his way. Just last week, when the team motto was “everyone has turned the page, its time to move on and get the ship right”, Dwight was busy continuing the “whoa as me” victim card he used to get out of Miami and send a good coach (Stan Van Gundy) to the unemployment line. Its become obvious that Dwight, too consumed with making everyone love him, has forgotten that his primary goal right now should be to straighten up and show that he is the franchise guy and can adapt for the betterment of the team.
Count me as a guy who was hard on Kobe Bryant for years, but have come to appreciate that we’re watching a top-5 player of all-time whether you agree with it or not. This quote from him after his 21 point/14 assist performance against the Oklahoma City Thunder (a game they won) says it all about where his priorities are:
“We’re doing a good job right now of just being real with each other and holding each other accountable, That makes a huge difference. I’m trying to evolve and find out what we need as a ballclub.” -Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
He stated on a radio show earlier that he sympathized with Howard as well, saying the situation has to be difficult. he even stated the affect the situation he went through with Shaq earlier in his career helped him realize that Howard has things he would like to accomplish as well. This is where Howard needed to show growth, he threw a mini tantrum against the defending champs in Miami.
Next summer Howard is free to go where he pleases, and given the new landscape of the league where centers are no longer the foundation of an offense, executives will be evaluating how he handles himself. So far the finger-pointing, moping, and overall bad attitude the last year and a half haven’t done him any favors. A max contract, of course, is still in his future, and it will be interesting to see who gives it to him (interested parties include Brooklyn, Dallas, and Atlanta). I, for one, am not interested in a 27-year old center with attitude problems and a knack for shying away from pressure. I hope he straightens out whatever his issues are because some poor team is going to buy in.
Would you want it to be yours?