In case you've been living under a rock and haven't noticed, things haven't been going particularly well for the Los Angeles Lakers over the first month of the 2012-13 season. What's more is that this year is the Lakers one and only chance to make a first impression on center Dwight Howard, whose contract expires after the season.
So, you may be wondering what must go right to entice D12 to re-sign with the Lakers.
At first glance, this seems like a pretty simple equation: Athletes value money; the Lakers have a lot of money; so Howard will re-sign with Los Angeles. However, things aren't always what they seem, and it may take more than money to convince Howard to extend his stay in Lakerland.
"You only get one shot. People might not ever understand that, but at the end of the day it’s not their life. You can’t let anybody else dictate how they want your life to be," he said. "I only have one shot to play and do something that I love. Not everybody is blessed and have an opportunity to do what they love.
"So I want to do it the best that I can and I’m going to take everything in I can to get what I can out of the NBA. Which, for me, is winning a championship," he added. "So if I have to play on another team or do whatever I have to do to get one, that’s my goal. This is my passion, so I’ll continue to fight."
If what Howard says is true, then it looks like he'll want to play for a team that gives him a legitimate chance to win an NBA title. Entering the season, it looked like Los Angeles was the perfect place for that, but a little over a month into the season and the Lakers aren't giving Howard the first impression they'd hoped to.
For one, the Lakers cut bait with head coach Mike Brown a mere five games into the campaign. Then the team had a shot at landing all-time great Phil Jackson, whose triangle offense would have fit Howard perfectly.
Instead of hiring Jackson, the Lakers went with Mike D'Antoni.
Eight games into his tenure with the team, the Lakers have posted a 3-5 record. Even worse is that Howard has seen his production dip since D'Antoni took over.
In Howard's 10 games before D'Antoni was brought in, he averaged 35.8 minutes, 20.0 points, 11.4 rebounds, 2.7 blocks and a 60.8 percent field-goal percentage. Since D'Antoni took over, he's averaged 36.4 minutes, 16.8 points, 11.3 rebounds, 2.8 blocks and a 56.8 percent field-goal percentage.
It's only a small sample size with D'Antoni, and nobody expects this team to finish with a sub-.500 record. But in order to turn things around and get back on the road to the NBA Finals, the Lakers are in desperate need of a spark.
That spark would likely come from point guard Steve Nash.
The problem is that Nash has been a ghost since Halloween, missing all 16 of the team's games since Oct. 31 with a fractured left fibula. With the way the injury is currently healing, according to Mark Medina of the L.A. Daily News, Nash recently estimated that he'd miss another 10-14 days.
Based on how things have been going, that means the Lakers and Howard have a little while before they'll be firing on all cylinders. That time could be valuable considering the Lakers only have one season to convince him to stay, especially if we're to believe his comments to John Denton about how he values winning a championship over everything else.
However, if we've learned anything from Howard's recent past, most notably his ugly divorce from the Orlando Magic, it's that he tends to waffle. That's not to say that he doesn't value winning, because he probably does. But let's not be naive; he also values money.
Here's what Sam Amick—currently of USA Today but formerly of Sports Illustrated—wrote on that subject back in the beginning of October:
Like the rest of the basketball universe, sources close to him say they'd be shocked if Howard -- who can get a fifth year and an annual 7.5 percent raise with the Lakers as opposed to a four-year deal with 4.5 percent raises with any other team next summer -- doesn't sign a long-term deal with the Lakers in July.
It's fair to point out that a lot has changed for the Lakers since then. But Amick's report still holds water. Howard's expected to stay in Los Angeles because they can offer him the most money.
In terms of money alone, Howard has three options: No. 1 is that he can sign an extension with Los Angeles right now, which would provide insurance but wouldn't allow him to cash in as much as if he waited until after the season; No. 2 is that he can get even more money than option No. 1 if he signs elsewhere in the offseason as a free agent; or No.3, he can get the most money by reaching free agency but re-signing with the Lakers.
What's the biggest factor in Howard's decision this offseason?
Of the three options, option No. 1 is the least likely. Which means Howard is almost assuredly heading to free agency. From there, it will depend on what he values more—winning or money.
There's obviously still enough time in the season to where Howard can get the best of both worlds by winning and re-signing with Los Angeles. But even if the "winning" part doesn't come to fruition this year, it will still likely come down to one simple equation for Dwight.
Dwight likes money; the Lakers can offer him the most money; so Dwight will re-sign with the Lakers.
(Note: All stats are current as of Dec. 5.)
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