Dwight Howard: Lakers' Problems Run Much Deeper Than Superstar Center

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistDecember 8, 2012

NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 05:  Dwight Howard #12 of the Los Angeles Lakers warms up prior to a game against the New Orleans Hornets at New Orleans Arena on December 5, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  NOTE TO USER:  User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
Stacy Revere/Getty Images

It happens, just like clockwork, every time a team disappoints following an offseason overhaul.

The Los Angeles Lakers are a mess right now, clocking in at 9-11 after their first 20 games. Expected to be the West's premier squad—a "super team" built in the vein of the Miami Heat—they've instead faltered and embarrassed. And Steve Nash has spent most of the year on the sideline, deflecting most of the blame off his shoulders.

Dwight Howard has not been so lucky.

The (alleged) seven-footer has been the overwhelming scapegoat for the Lakers' early season calamity. His free-throw shooting, they say, is untenable. His personality, they say, is artificial. His post game, they say, is undeveloped.

Howard has borne the lion's share of the burden on his massive shoulders, which begs the question: Does he deserve it?

I don't believe so.

Let me start by being honest: Howard isn't playing up to his potential. He needs to play better. His scoring is down from 20.6 to 18.8, and his rebounding is down from 14.5 to 11.5. Both of those are unacceptable.

Some of that has to do with the fact that he's playing with a legitimate scorer for the first time in his life. But some of it also has to do with a marked decrease in productivity.

My argument isn't that Howard is having a great season; my argument is that he isn't the Lakers' problem.

When you watch the Lakers play, it becomes crystal clear that the issues with this team run deep: Their effort is lackluster. Their execution is shoddy at best. After firing Mike Brown midseason, they've looked like a disarrayed group of chickens running around with their heads cut off.

Most importantly, there's no order at the top of their offense. Steve Nash might be in and out of the lineup all season long. And Chris Duhon is not—I repeat is not—a legitimate NBA point guard. Mike D'Antoni has always liked the guy, but his bullheadedness is starting to take its toll.

The overwhelming likelihood is that the Lakers will turn their season around. There's too much talent on this roster not too. Even if they trade Pau Gasol—which is starting to look increasingly likely—there's no way to keep this team down forever.

And when they pick it up, these early season grievances will probably be forgotten. But for now, I think it's important to acknowledge what's really going on here.

And it's a lot of things—not just Dwight Howard.