Dwight Howard is Lakers’ main problem

Ever owned something that initially seemed like the best thing you’ve ever bought? Then it became so high maintenance that it you didn’t even want it anymore?

That’s what Dwight Howard has been to the Los Angeles Lakers this season.

The fact that the Lakers are spiraling out of control when they are so stacked with talent is beyond me. For a squad that boasts a combined 37 NBA All-Star game appearances, the Lakers aren’t even on track to make the playoffs this season.

The Lakers weren’t even racking up this many losses when Smush Parker, Lamar Odom, Luke Walton and Kwame Brown were starting alongside Kobe Bryant in the 2005-06 season.

Now that was a bad team with bad players. This is a bad team with good players.

What went wrong?

It’s not like the Lakers lost much over the offseason. Signing Steve Nash for cheap over Ramon Sessions is an obvious upgrade.

Bryant is actually playing better at 34 years old than he did last year.

Gasol is playing at a career-worst, but his play has diminished over the past couple years, and his contributions have seemed irrelevant to every game’s outcome.

Then there is Dwight Howard.

We’re talking about the best defensive player in the NBA that hasn’t done much to try and improve a Lakers defense that’s 28th in the league in opponent points in the paint per game.

He’s averaging a career high in fouls per game and has been putting up his lowest rebounding average since his rookie year.

Howard’s horrific free-throw shooting makes him a glaring liability on offense, and he declined help from Nash, who is on track to be the greatest foul shooter in NBA history.

There were two particular games this season against the Nuggets and the Raptors where Howard’s attitude had himself ejected before halftime.

He’s still been putting up strong offensive numbers for a center (16.3 points and 11.8 rebounds per game), but he’s playing nowhere near like the third-best player in the league according to ESPN.com’s 2012 #NBArank.

Howard has been fighting his teammates and critics more than he’s been fighting other big men for rebounds. He brings so many distractions to the team that it seems like the Lakers are expending too much effort making concessions for him rather than encouraging him to adjust.

Sure, you can try and blame Bryant for rattling Howard’s confidence since he became a Laker. After all, Bryant has a history for being a lousy teammate and not getting teammates involved.

But every story you hear Bryant giving his opinions on Howard, you’ll also find buried in the same article that Nash thinks the same thing.

Every Lakers player has tried to make some kind of adjustment to their game.

Bryant is averaging 6.8 assists per game and had several games where he purposely avoided scoring.

Nash, who missed 24 games in the beginning of the season, has recently been looking to shoot more when he’s open.

Despite being moved to the bench, Gasol tried to set screens and embrace playing outside of the key before a tear in his plantar fascia has him currently sidelined.

How has Howard adjusted help his team?

Granted, Howard has been playing with a slew of back and shoulder injuries that have hampered his ability.

Maybe Howard could be slightly more effective and happier had he played under Phil Jackson instead of current Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni’s run-and-gun approach. Jackson’s triangle offense is largely responsible for Shaquille O’Neal’s success as a Laker.

If Howard wants to be successful with the Lakers, he needs to make the same sacrifices that other high-profile veterans have made in the past in order to fit with a championship contender. He needs to find a set role and accept it, instead of expecting everything to be in his favor.

Howard’s reign of being the alpha dog didn’t accomplish much with the Orlando Magic, so why force it with the Lakers?

It is very likely that the Lakers don’t deal him by Thursday’s trade deadline.

This upcoming stretch after the All-Star break will determine whether Howard legitimately wants to contend for a title in Los Angeles or play in comfort and complacency.

Time is ticking.

 

Reach the columnist at jnacion@asu.edu