No fun and games for Howard in LA
FEB 13, 2013 8:18a ET
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Dwight Howard looks like a very unhappy man these days.
Can you blame him?
Even after a dominating 19-point, 18-rebound performance Tuesday in the Lakers' 91-85 win over last-place Phoenix, this certainly isn't the way D12 expected his first season in purple and gold to play out.
Putting his previously pristine reputation on the line to force a trade from the Orlando Magic to what he thought was a better situation looks like it has backfired on the All-Star center.
Howard must have thought by this time in the season he and his Lakers teammates would be starting to prepare for the playoffs and a possible championship run. Instead, he's spending nearly all of his time hurt, defending his reputation, defending his motivation, defending his father for coming to his defense and/or defending his struggling basketball team.
It's a situation he probably never thought he'd be in as a Laker, with the team 25-28 and in 10th place in the Western Conference.
The only defending he wanted to do was underneath the basket, helping his team to a league record-tying 17th NBA title. Because of back and shoulder injuries he's doing very little of that. He is, however, on the defensive whenever reporters gather around for their daily inquisition.
The questions are usually the same: Are you and Kobe feuding? Are you going to re-sign with the Lakers? Why haven't you played like DWIGHT HOWARD?
The answers are usually the same as the previous session: "Everything is fine with me and all the guys." "I'm not talking about that until after the season." "I'm out there doing my best and will keep trying to improve and help us get into the playoffs."
He has gone from a joking, fun-loving presence in the locker room and on the floor — something desperately needed on a Bryant-led team — to a sometimes dour, always cautious player trying to figure out what went wrong — and why.
Many have speculated that Howard isn't the player he was because of his serious back surgery last April, and Shaquille O'Neal and Charles Barkley have ridiculed him for not playing — or playing hard enough — ever since he tore the labrum in his right shoulder.
He showed some emotion last week in Boston when it looked like Bryant had called him out for not being tough enough to play through the pain in his shoulder — Bryant denies that was his intention — basically telling Kobe to mind his own business. Other than that, Howard has become just another expressionless professional athlete, giving pat answers and hoping he can finish it up and go home.
It shouldn't have been this way, but it is. And Howard himself has to take some of the responsibility for the constant haranguing from media, fans and teammates.
When you walk around the locker room after a game holding a stat sheet up and complaining that you only got a few shots in the game, it will not endear you to your teammates. And when you end up sitting out three games right after that, the perception is of someone more concerned with himself than with the team.
Also, criticizing Steve Nash — one of the top five point guards ever — for not getting you the ball in the absolute perfect spot, well, Howard loses on that front as well. Nash is as good of a guy as he is a player, and his teammates love him. Howard should have just let that one go.
Conversely, Mike D'Antoni and his coaching staff are using him abysmally.
Getting the ball in the low post, Howard is virtually unstoppable and can dominate the offense and make things easier on Nash and Bryant to get better looks at the basket when he kicks it back to them. That was illustrated vividly against the Suns. But he very rarely gets that chance, and has asked D'Antoni why.
"We've talked about it," Howard said, "but I'm not going to complain. I'm going to continue to get healthy and do whatever I can to help this team win." He then went on, adding to the pat answer with a dose of truth when asked if the Lakers would be a better team if he got the ball down low more often.
"We all have to play for each other," he said. "We have to keep holding each other accountable and play for the team, not as individuals. If we do that, we'll win. If we don't, we won't. Simple as that."
Something all the Lakers — including Howard — should adopt as a mantra. Because if they don't, this year will go down as the biggest letdown season in the history of the Los Angeles Lakers.
And every player's reputation will need defending. Coaches, too.