Dwight Howard and the Los Angeles Lakers will be declared disappointments if they fail to win a title. This is how sports talk goes. If you have a mere chance at success, you're labeled a failure for not claiming it.
This, despite how even the best teams aren't a better-than-50-percent favorite to win it all. The Miami Heat should probably be favored against the entire Eastern Conference, and I still wouldn't bet them against the entire NBA field. Somehow, we make this leap from "has the best odds" to "should get ripped if they don't win it all."
I would hazard that the Lakers should have the second-best Western Conference odds behind that of the Thunder. In the team sense, I believe that making a Western Conference finals should be a wildly successful season for the Lakers.
The West is more stacked than ever this season. San Antonio returns with the same roster that crushed last year's regular season and much of the playoffs. Denver has reloaded with Andre Iguodala. Oklahoma City is already great and should be even better with further development of its youthful core.
From my perspective, making the NBA Finals would be exceeding expectations for Los Angeles. The Lakers have a great team, but it's one of several out West.
For Howard, it is difficult to find appropriate expectations because his role remains mysterious. He's set to join Pau Gasol, another ostensible center plugged in as a power forward. Flanking Pau should mean that Dwight will get fewer touches.
Fans might be anticipating the standard 20 and 10 from Superman, but I believe that his average will dip below 20 points per game. This might not be the worst thing in the world, as the Lakers have scorers at three other positions.
Dwight's primary objective should be on the defensive end, where Los Angeles struggled last season. The Lakers were ranked 14th in defensive efficiency last season. Based on his ability to turn mediocre Orlando casts into top defenses, I'd say it's reasonable to expect a top-five defensive ranking from Los Angeles this season.
While it might not seem fair to put this task on Dwight and Dwight alone, frontcourt players have a disproportionate impact on the success of a defense. Based on past production, it should be well within Howard's capability to take this average defensive roster and make it elite. He's that good.
So, there you go. My expectations bar is set for at least 17 points, 11 rebounds, a top-five defensive team ranking and a Western Conference finals trip. This is a lot to ask from a man coming off major back surgery, but it's also far less than what fan consensus requires.
Whether or not he meets these expectations, one thing is certain: Dwight will not get a lot of slack this season, considering the circumstances.