As the calendar moves toward the end of January; we find ourselves deep into the winter of the Los Angeles Lakers discontent. Preseason predictions of the Lakers rolling through the Western Conference on the way back to the NBA Finals; are now looked at the same disdain one would have for Christmas decorations, so long after the holiday has passed. A change of bench bosses, early in the campaign, from defense oriented Mike Brown, to the run and gun style of Mike D’Antoni, have not improved the club. If the season were to end on Wednesday night, the Lakers would be heading home for the summer, with a mark of 17-25 and trailing the Houston Rockets by four games for the final playoff slot.
Stating that the trade that brought center Dwight Howard to the roster, failed to unfold as planned; is like saying the Titanic had a problem with a leak. Apparently nobody involved in the transaction sending D-12 to the “City Of Angels” considered, the way Howard, would take to his new role on his new team. During his years with the Orlando Magic, the offense revolved around, the best center of his generation. Did he truly expect to have the same results with the Lakers; with Bryant being the long-established leader of the squad?
The Lakers are a rudderless ship; The All-Star guard, wants to go in one direction; while Howard prefers a different course and veteran point guard Steve Nash, stuck in the middle; trying to keep everyone satisfied. “Lakers-Land” has gotten so bizarre; that bench-boss Mike D’Antoni, has asked his squad to concentrate on defense. The former Suns and Knicks head coach operates under the philosophy, that as you score one more point than your opponent, you have played adequate defense. The fact that he realizes his team is not playing hard enough on the defensive end, tells you all you need to know.
The team engaged in a talking-session after the shoot-a-round Wednesday morning, according to the “Los Angeles Times,” in what turned into a rather heated discussion. The paper’s sources stated that there were some bruised egos, as well as teammates calling each other out. Reportedly Bryant asked the center if Howard found it difficult playing with Kobe and was he enjoying the experience; Howard according to the sources did not give a definitive answer to the question.
At this point; Howard is still a one-year rental; as he is an unrestricted Free Agent on July 1. Although, Kobe talked to reporters when they consummated the trade, about handing off the leadership role to D-12; that was a scenario based on Howard signing a long-term pact with the club this summer. That appears to be far less likely in late January, then it did when the trade first took place. If relations do not improve between the two All-Stars this season; Howard most likely will be looking for a new home next summer.
The question now becomes, what exactly should the team do at this juncture? Should they attempt to peddle him, before this campaign’s NBA trade deadline; or hold onto him for the balance of the season and hope they can pull off a sign and trade deal? Unless the club starts to turn their season around against the Utah Jazz on Friday night and plays consistently better on the court; despite the talent, this year could just be a lost-year for the franchise. Would Los Angeles General Manager Mitch Kupchak, be able to get a better package in February, than in July, when a team does not necessarily need to go through the Lakers to sign the big man?
This is far from the first time, that a team that looked great on paper, did not meet expectations on the hardwood. The Lakers experienced it not that many years-go, when they signed Gary Payton and Karl Malone to compliment Bryant and former center Shaquille O’Neal, that team failed to come together. What they have to determine now, is the best way to salvage the situation.