Of all the predictions handed out before the season started, I’d like someone, anyone to find me the genius who predicted this. Hard to fathom, no?
Well, sort of. Just put a little simple math on it and you’ll see something ain’t adding up. Dwight Howard’s Magic went 37-29 last year, and their second best player was Ryan Anderson. They won 50 or more for four straight years prior to 2012, mostly because they were built to compliment Howard, meaning they had a team full of long distance shooters and a couple of guys who could run the pick and roll with Dwight. They may not have ever won titles, but they were pretty damn good.
The Lakers won titles in 2009 and 2010 because they had Kobe Bryant and an astoundingly good trio of big men in Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom. Oh, and Phil Jackson. Even in recent, leaner times they still won 57 in 2010 and went 41-25 with wide-eyed Mike Brown in charge last year. Even after losing Lamar Odom, They still had Kobe and Pau and Andrew, and that’s more than enough talent to win on most nights.
What the fuck is happening now, then? Why is this team 15-18 after adding Steve Nash and trading Andrew Bynum for Howard, widely considered the best big man in the sport? Why can’t a team with this kind of offensive firepower and one of the league’s sharpest offensive coaching minds make this thing work?
This isn’t working because it isn’t supposed to.
Rather, it won’t without an adjustment. Sure, someone might be dumb enough to suggest that Kobe actually be the one to defer here, even though he’s averaging over 30 points a game and shooting a career high 48% this season, but that wouldn’t solve anything. I mean, running the offense through a player with no repertoire beyond dunks and tip-ins sounds about as wise as running the Princeton offense with a team full of superstars, don’t it? Truth is, Dwight Howard either isn’t up to speed physically or his game is actually regressing, and the only way the offense will show any improvement is if they scale back Howard’s involvement to include a handful of pick and rolls and the occasional post-up.
Dwight Howard has no post game. Like, none at all. He’s got that butt ugly running hook in the lane that usually slaps off the board and into the hands of the nearest rebounder. That’s it. For all the bitching and hand wringing Laker fans did in the Shaq years about what he couldn’t do, at least he had jump hooks (with both hands!) and that cute little fadeway baseline shotput, all of which he developed over his years in the league. Dwight has developed nothing in almost 9 years. Nada. Still, he can score 20 points a night on put-backs, lobs, layups and dunks, which is a testament to his physical prowess and almost nothing else. Dwight is hell on a pick and roll and pretty tough to keep off the offensive glass when he’s healthy, which he obviously isn’t now. Even with the dismal free throw shooting and the total lack of an offensive repertoire, he scores merely because he’s bigger, stronger and faster than anyone else on the court. That’s the tricky part of this. He’s good enough to carry a roster of average players to alot of success, but not great enough to go all the way. The dedication, the work-ethic, the improvement. It’s missing with this guy. He’d rather be thought of as a wacky, fun-loving dude than a winner, and if you didn’t know that about him, you do after reading his quotes regarding the Lakers’ lack of chemistry and his attitude toward leadership. After that, I’m starting to have serious doubts about his sanity, to say nothing of his ability to lead a team.
Oh, and as much fun as everyone is having with Pau Gasol these days, he’s not the problem. If you ask a guy who helped lead your team to two championships(a guy who is an extremely talented post player, mind you) to stand twenty feet out and shoot jumpers so that the franchise’s new toy can play in his old spot and be way less effective, it’s hard to imagine said guy beng thrilled about it. Yeah, Pau appears to be playing under some degree of protest but ego aside, putting him out to pasture is hurting the team. Still, I have to admit, this is pretty fucking funny, as mean-spirited and inaccurate as it may be.
With that out of the way, there’s a real problem here. The Lakers traded for Howard to become their centerpiece, their new franchise player. If you think they are going to risk alienating him by telling him he needs to take a backseat now, you simply aren’t living in the real word. Even if it means sabotaging this season and maybe the next, they aren’t going to do anything to rub the new golden boy the wrong way, never mind that the guy should be self-aware and/or humble enough to know that he is responsible for alot of this teams’ current struggles. Fact is, Dwight is killing this team, and there really isn’t alot that cane be done about it right now.
What are the solutions to this? Well, there aren’t any that are terribly realistic. The only scenarios I can summon up involve either trading Dwight now, or Howard suddenly realizing that he needs to be a defensive superstar on this team and let Kobe and Nash do the heavy lifting on offense, and neither one of those plans seem even remotely possible.
In simple terms, if this season ends in anything less than championship glory, there’s gonna be fingers pointing in every direction like them old Federated commercials. And then, when the season is over and Howard is as free as a bird, the Laker brass is gonna have to sit down and deal with the same problem they had at the end of the Shaq/Kobe relationship: Who stays, who goes?
So yeah, this version of the Lakers are more or less fucked. If there was still hope two weeks ago, still some chance that Steve Nash could come back and whip things into shape, well that hope has come and gone now. For this year, they’ll be lucky to make the playoffs and even if they do, that party will be over before it starts. Then, the summer will come, and the Lakers will do everything they can to make sure Howard stays on for five years, and if you think they are going to have to promise him anything less than the sun, moon and stars to get him to stay put, you probably haven’t been paying attention.
Question is, how far will he push it? I mean, if he asks for Kobe to be shipped out, they’ll probably do it. They’ll have to. Business is business, after all. Bullshit stories of a Kobe/Dwight post-game fight aside, there’s obviously a problem here and if Kobe gets frustrated enough to complain to the bosses about it, he might be disappointed with their response. After all, Kobe is alot of things, but the future of the franchise is not one of them. Oh, and for what it’s worth, the Lakers can usher in the Dwight era with little trouble. Kobe’s contract expires after next season. Pau’s does, too. Same for Metta. In fact, the only player under contract past the end of next year is Nash, whose deal expires after 2015. What that means is, the Lakers can promise Dwight a clean slate and a chance to have a new roster built entirely around him in the league’s biggest glamour market. hard to turn down, to be sure.
The writing is on the wall, basically. Yeah, this team was built to win now and it’s not doing so, but the list of potential scapegoats will feature everyone but the new franchise cornerstone. Mike Brown is already history, Pau Gasol is likely next, and after that, it just might be Kobe’s turn. If dealing with the fact that this team might not ever get thereiract together this season is a tough enough pill to swallow, just imagine how life is going to be when they throw the entire thing on the junk heap and start over with Dwight Howard as the focal point? Shit is dire.
That’s the future, and it seems pretty much inevitable at this point. What couldn’t possibly have gone wrong has done so beyond everyone’s wildest reckonings.
Welcome to the Dwight Howard era. Like it or not, this is the Lakers’ future, and it ain’t looking pretty.