A year can change a lot of things in sports. In two years, Dwight Howard has gone from a top three player in the NBA, arguably the most durable player, and may end up playing for his third team in a year and a half come this summer as he explores free agency for the first time.
Last season, Howard was the center of a lot of criticism with how he handled his departure from the Orlando Magic. Reports surfaced that he wanted Stan Van Gundy out as coach, insert the awkward Pepsi swig that we’ve come to Youtube and love. Howard wanted out of Orlando but exercised his player-option for the final season only to inevitably request a trade and shut himself down for the season due to back surgery.
He earned all the criticism he got last year. This year happens to be another story.
For all of Howard’s shortcomings this season, especially his penchant for pouting, it’s about time that the Lakers realize what they’re doing wrong.
Howard didn’t want to come to the Lakers in the first place, Brooklyn always was, and probably still is, his first choice when it came to him changing his address via either trade or free agency. Things didn’t work out that way and now there’s an apparent divide between Howard, Kobe Bryant, and the front office that has two superstars at different stages of their careers.
Howard wants to protect his body for the long-term as he’ll be a free-agent this summer. So him taking fouls, playing through pain that he’s never experienced, and putting himself at risk for further injury isn’t exactly on the top of his to-do list. Bryant is 34 years of age with only a few years left to chase that illustrious sixth ring.
One is in “I have to get paid first and then worry about winning” mode and the other is in “We need to win now and worry about pain later” mode.
This has caused an apparent divide between the two stars in Bryant’s comments toward Howard. I’m not sure how else one can interpret “We don’t have time for Dwight’s shoulder to heal,”, but Bryant insists that it wasn’t meant to call out Howard.
Mike D’Antoni said last week after Howard returned to the court versus the Celtics that he had actually been cleared to play for quite a while, a sentiment that Howard denied.
The criticism toward Howard isn’t the problem that the Lakers may inevitably regret, it’s the media circus. If there’s any proven way to alienate Dwight, it’s through criticizing him in the media. His soft-spoken, playful nature is a stark contrast to the rugged personality that Bryant embodies.
Bryant has said that Howard hasn’t been pushed the way that the Lakers have been looking to push him this season, and that’s likely true, but the problem is that there is a contract extension that has yet to be signed that can end up never being signed if this keeps up.
With each media jab that is taken after every turn of this roller coaster, Howard will certainly be pushed all the more away. There can be all the validity in the world about whether the Lakers have enough time for Howard to heal and how much they need him.
But that’s not what’s going to keep him around. It’s amazing how the blame turns to Dwight for not playing when he’s missed only six games this year despite losing feeling in his legs due to his back surgery. His torn labrum is an injury that everyone has a solution to fixing, but no one would volunteer to subject themselves to in order to prove how easy it can be to play through it.
His durability has been such a hot topic for criticism when he’s missed only 19 games in the previous eight years of his career, why would he choose this year, his contract year, to randomly dog it?
Dwight Howard isn’t without criticism in this tumultuous Laker season, but neither is anyone else. Steve Nash missed 24 games, Kobe has been a lightning rod for criticism with his shot-selection, Pau Gasol has been wildly inconsistent, D’Antoni has been stubborn to a fault, and Jim Buss is the guy responsible for all of these guys being in Laker gold in the first place.
Dwight didn’t choose to be a Laker, the Lakers chose him. So there has to come a point where they have to give some indication that they want to keep him.
Kobe’s career is close to over, Pau Gasol has been every trade rumor known to Google, there are no draft picks to stake claim to, and having the highest payroll in the NBA means there’s no room to make moves in free agency.
For all the complaints that everyone can make about what Dwight has done this season, nothing has been made about what the Lakers have done to make it better. Isn’t that right, Phil?
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