Dwight Howard probably knows this already, but he's no longer in Orlando.
He's no longer the best player—and, as was often the case with the Magic, one of the only good players—on his team. He's not his team's one and only saving grace. He's not the leader.
Now, Dwight Howard is a cog in the L.A. Lakers machine. An incredibly significant cog, but a cog nonetheless. He is no more significant, however, than the guys surrounding him on the court. He's part of a team, and it's time to start playing like it—and talking like it.
The Lakers are in the midst of a stretch in which they've lost four of five. Their defense has been exposed. They're 9-12, 5.5 games behind the Pacific-leading Los Angeles Clippers. Despite the fact that no team should be judged on the way it plays the first couple months of the season, the Lakers have enough problems to worry about as it stands.
They don't need to be worrying about Howard's attitude, on top of it all.
Last week, during a shootaround, Steve Nash attempted to give Howard some free-throw shooting advice, according to ESPNLosAngeles.com's Dave McMenamin. Nash, after all, shoots a league-leading 90.4 percent from the line, while Howard shoots a paltry 46.9 percent. You would think that advice from a teammate who clearly excels in the area would be welcome.
But you would be wrong.
According to McMenamin, Howard said this of the exchange:
Listen, he was just suggesting some things, but it's not something that we've already talked about or anybody else has suggested. My mind cannot get clouded with everybody telling me how to shoot a free throw. I just have to go up there and shoot it my way and not get caught up in what everybody else is saying, because that's when I miss.
In some ways, Howard's thoughts seem legitimate. In most ways, though, he just sounds frustrated and defensive. And his teammate was just trying to help him out, because Lord knows he needs it right now. According to McMenamin, the Lakers' recent opponents have discovered a sure-fire method of emerging victorious in close games: Send Howard to the line, and more often than not, he'll miss.
When that's happening to you, it's easy to get frustrated. It's easy to feel like it's your fault your team is losing because, well, it kind of is, if you can't sink a free throw. Kobe Bryant even said as much.
But there's a larger issue here, and it is likely a key contributor to the Lakers' struggles. And it has to do with Howard adjusting to life as part of a collection of star players, as opposed to life as the star player. In Orlando, Howard was the clear leader; in L.A., that is not the case. He is, in fact, the youngest and least experienced of the team's three stars, and as a result, they might have something to teach him.
Howard needs to be more receptive to what those guys have to say than he was when Nash tried to teach him how to shoot a free throw. He needs to show a little more maturity than throwing a tantrum when his own teammate—his very qualified teammate—tries to extend a hand.
Everyone knows that you can't just throw a bunch of superstars on the same team and expect them to win. There needs to be chemistry and teamwork in order to build a contender, and judging by the way things are going for the Lakers right now, they have neither. Howard's attitude certainly isn't helping matters.
Free-throw shooting is clearly a large contributor to the Lakers' struggles, but before they can fix their performance from the line, they need to worry about what's happening behind the scenes.
Understanding how to function as a team—and how to accept constructive criticism—is the first step.
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