COMMENTARY | By now, the news regarding Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant’s altercation on New Year’s day after a loss to the Philadelphia 76ers is well-documented. It’s requisite Los Angeles Lakers’ drama that NBA fans have come to expect from Hollywood’s team.
The details are juicy as ever, too.
The report is that Bryant co-signed on Shaquille O’Neal’s early-season comments that Dwight Howard is not a dominant center. Howard allegedly took exception to it and had to be restrained from physically retaliating. Although subsequent reports from ESPN Los Angeles’s Ramona Shelburne deny this happened, it’s hard to imagine that it’s entirely fabricated.
There are two sides to every feud, and that knowledge brings about an interesting question when it comes to the man tabbed by many Lakers fans as the next great Lakers center:
What if Kobe’s right about Howard?
Howard may never be the same player he once was during his first eight NBA seasons. In 2012-13, he’s averaging 17.3 points and 12.4 rebounds per game. Those numbers are just slightly lower than his career averages of 18.4 and 13.0.
The thought before the 2012-13 season began was that they wouldn’t need him to be that player with this talented of a roster. Not only has that proven to be wrong, but he needs to be more than he ever was more now than ever. However unfair it is to ask him to do that while he is having by most players’ standards a strong season, that’s what the Lakers need from him in order to be a great team.
Obviously, they’re not even a good team so far this season at 15-18 and sitting firmly in 11th place in the Pacific Division.
The fact that the Lakers are imploding this early may save Los Angeles from years of disappointment down the road. Howard is a free agent following this season and has made no commitment to remain with the Lakers. If they were to trade him this season and get draft picks and young players, they could get out from under the salary cap nightmare they’re headed for in the coming years somewhat early.
If Bryant retires following the 2013-14 season and Howard is off the payroll, they’ll have some room to find a new franchise player with the resulting freed up cap dollars. Does anyone really believe that D12 can carry a franchise?
It’s impossible to argue that Howard is anything but leaps and bounds better than Andrew Bynum as an option in the middle. But Howard, like Steve Nash, is no savior. We may never see the same person who dunked on a 12-foot basket in the NBA All-Star game while wearing a Superman cape grace us with his presence in an NBA arena again. That’s the reality.
Lakers fans aren’t used to having to use the word ‘rebuild’, but in this case, it may be the only option. Mike D’Antoni is a good coach (but certainly not the right coach for this team), and if he had the right personnel, the Showtime Lakers really could be on their way back to Southern California.
About that personnel — the old, slow Lakers need to get younger and more athletic. Wholesale roster changes are the easiest way to do that, but they’ll need some spending money and draft picks to do it.
Even though Southern California is hoping that it doesn’t come down to it, that’s precisely what a trade involving Howard could bring to the table.
Michael C. Jones covers the Los Angeles Lakers and the NBA. He is also the Editor of Sports Out West.
You can follow him on Twitter @MikeJonesTweets