The Los Angeles Lakers viewed Dwight Howard as the missing piece to their championship puzzle. Even prior to last summer, it was the worst kept secret in basketball that Mitch Kupchak was shifting around contracts, making calls, and developing a long-term strategy to bring the NBA’s best center to Tinseltown. He needed Jim Buss’ approval before any moves could officially be made, obviously, but there was always a plan in place to put the Lakers in position to trade for Howard.
L.A. ultimately got its man, but not the results it was hoping for.
Partially because he hasn’t been fully healthy and partially because he has been forced to learn a new system on the fly, Howard has underperformed with the Lakers. His 16.5 points and 11.9 rebounds per game are his lowest since 2005-06. Along the same lines, his blocks per game total is at its lowest since 2010-11.
The most troubling number associated with Howard, however, is this: 45.8 percent. That’s the Lakers’ winning percentage this season. Currently the team sits 3.5 games away from the Houston Rockets, who are owners of the eighth and final playoff seed in the Western Conference.
That's as of today, mind you. The Lakers’ next slate of opponents includes the Brooklyn Nets, Boston Celtics (twice), Charlotte Bobcats, Miami Heat, Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Clippers.
That 3.5 games could turn into a far more insurmountable number sooner rather than later.
Because of L.A.’s failed season (up to this point), many can’t help but question whether Howard would even want to return next year. He is a free agent this summer, and while the Lakers can offer him more money than other team, the pressures of playing in Tinseltown and the complete lack of chemistry currently pervading this roster makes his status a lot more uncertain than it should be.
During a recent interview, Stephen A. Smith asked Howard -- point black -- whether he would be wearing purple and gold next season.
“Right now, my only focus is to get us into the playoffs and win a championship. Nothing else matters at this point,” Howard replied (via Larry Brown Sports).
Smith then pressed Howard, pointing out that he was being non-commital.
“I’m committed to this team, and I’m committed to us winning a championship,” Howard said.
“I understand what the Lakers want. And I understand that right now, there’s no need for all the circus and all the stuff that happened last year to start back up. I don’t want it, my team doesn’t need it, I don’t need it and, frankly, the fans don’t need it.”
Of course, by not answering Smith’s question honestly Howard is actually helping create a circus. If he had been straight up last year, there would have been no problems. But that's sort of what you get with the guy.
At the end of the day, it makes most sense for all involved to see Howard stay in L.A. That’s the decision that would leave him with the most money, a city he obviously loves, and his very own team in two years.
As he has proven on numerous occasions over the past year, though, Howard doesn’t always opt for the move that makes the most sense.
Stay tuned, folks – things promise to get interesting.