The Los Angeles Lakers have only won 24 games this year, but they could probably still make the postseason if the league decides to count moral victories. Their 10 point road loss to the Miami Heat on Sunday was emblematic of how things have gone all year for this collection of future Hall of Famers. They kept it close. They had a chance to steal it. They looked good in spurts. They could have won. But then they didn’t.
When it was all said and done, when it came time to actually win the game, they handed the outing to the other squad on a silver platter.
It’s time to stop playing fan fiction with this year’s club. The Lakers will not make the playoffs. There will be no magical run after the All-Star Break. This group won’t suddenly develop some semblance of chemistry en route to a late-season 30-game winning streak that will carry them through the playoffs.
The Lakers are a bad team. Bad teams don’t make the playoffs.
Far more intriguing than what this team won’t do in the second half of this year is what awaits it in the offseason. Dwight Howard is going to be a free agent this summer, and the tension between him and Kobe Bryant/Mike D’Antoni has been palpable in recent weeks. It has gotten so bad, in fact, that his father actually came out and blasted both recently for trying to get his son to play through injuries.
“I told him before he said it publicly, ‘It’s your career. No person can say what you need to do or not do. You can’t worry about what Kobe or anybody else says,’” the elder Howard said (via AJC). “Nobody can say what Kobe said -- that’s stepping into another man’s shoes. I understand what Kobe was trying to do, but he went about it the wrong way. He’s trying to win a championship. But Dwight has to tell Kobe, ‘I appreciate your opinion, but that doesn’t matter. We’re two men on this team. We need to be reasonable about this.’”
Dwight Sr. doesn’t blame Bryant entirely, though. He blames D’Antoni.
“The problem is the coach. (D’Antoni) needs to step in and say, ‘You guys have got to be quiet. We’re trying to secure something here. Dwight is probably looking at the coach, thinking, ‘What are you going to do?’ I promise, if that had been Stan Van Gundy, that wouldn’t have happened. (Howard) wouldn’t have been admonished publicly. I think the coach has a lot to do with who controls Kobe’s mouth right now.”
And yet, despite all that, he didn’t think his son would end up with the Nets next year.
“Oh, I doubt it. That would surprise me.”
Or the Hawks.
“Dwight hasn’t said anything about Atlanta, either. But he likes home. I think he would love to end his career here, even though he hasn’t said that publicly.”
The Lakers can offer Howard a longer deal and more money than any other team in basketball. That has to be worth something to a 27-year-old who is coming off the most injury-plagued 12 months of his career. Of course, there is also something to be said for mental health. And is there really any doubt that the Atlanta Hawks, Brooklyn Nets and Dallas Mavericks (the three teams that will make a hard push to obtain him, one way or the other) would offer more calm circumstances?
Last week, upper-level L.A. sources told told ESPNLosAngeles.com's Ramona Shelburne that they were ‘very confident’ Howard would stay with the team. Moreover, they made it clear that they had no intention of trading him – a point Mitch Kupchak reiterated publicly as well.
Given what a train wreck this year has been, though, one can’t help but wonder: what’s this team’s future with Howard? Clearly he can’t co-exist with D’Antoni and Bryant. Neither is going anywhere any time soon. The franchise can’t really improve itself right now because its only legitimate trade chip, Pau Gasol, is losing value by the minute.
What's the next move?
The Lakers say they won’t trade Howard, but they also said they wouldn’t fire Mike Brown a week before doing it.
Changes need to be made in L.A. Changes will be made. It’s going to be interesting to see whether those changes result in Howard ending up in a different uniform.