But that shouldn’t be the main concern in L.A. right now. Getting Dwight Howard happy and healthy is the key to the future of the Lakers.
Gasol has had a rough go lately. Last season, he dealt with being traded to the Houston Rockets, only to have that vetoed as he found himself back in Lakers uniform. That had to be demoralizing for a player who was a big part of the franchises two recent NBA championships.
Yet, he didn’t complain and showed up to work every day. That speaks volumes about how can overcome the negativity currently surrounding him.
As for this season, to put it nicely, it has been the worst start in his career.
He has posted a career-low 12.7 points per game to go with another career low, a 42.9 shooting percentage from the field. And his adjustment to the Lakers' current offense can be illustrated in the best description of how the Industrial Revolution has forever changed the face of the modern novel.
Right now Gasol is just that like the puppy in the beginning of the story. He’s lost, but eventually he will find his way.
His best days very may very well be behind him, but he just has too much talent and is such a team player that there should be little concern that he won’t be able to find his way on this team.
Howard, though, is on a whole other level of concern.
Recovering from back surgery, Dwight just hasn’t resembled anything that his Superman/Iron Man moniker suggests.
His former coach Stan Van Gundy put it best. In an article by Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times, Van Gundy stated:
I don’t think he looks quite as explosive or as quick as he has in the past. Now, he’s still above almost everyone in the league at that size athletically, but he has not totally looked like himself to me.
It's a big adjustment for him going from being the guy to not only being the No. 2 guy but really a No. 2 guy that really doesn't get the ball very much at all. It's a different deal and an adjustment he has to make. Those kinds of things take time.
I think Dwight is going to be more than willing to make the adjustment, but it's still an adjustment and it takes time mentally too because your ego—and ego is not a bad thing, it's a good thing, you need it to be great in this league—tells you that you're supposed to be the man and having to adjust to playing off somebody else is not an easy thing.
That sums up everything we have seen from him this year. So what do the Lakers do about it?
Well to start, his health is an issue. Howard really doesn’t appear to be himself right now, and he knows it. He stated as such in an interview with Sam Amick of USA Today:
I'm still in that process. People don't understand that. They just come out and see me make a couple dunks and blocks and say, "Oh, he's back." But it does take a while for all this stuff to heal. This is not something easy, so I understand that. It will come.
It will come?
When exactly is that? Are we sure it will come this year? Next? It was back surgery on a seven-foot body. Will he ever be the same player he once was?
That seems like a more pressing issue than Gasol’s performance. The Lakers can survive if Gasol is not at his best this season. But they will not go anywhere if Howard doesn’t get back to his Defensive Player of the Year status.
As far as Howard not being a No. 1 option anymore, his talent suggests that he should be able to adjust to being the second banana. What would help that transition and the future of the team is to give Kobe Bryant rest.
He needs it, and that will help Howard rediscover his game.
Right now, Bryant is playing nearly 39 minutes per game, and he is taking nearly twice the shot attempts that Howard gets. Even not at full strength, how is Howard going to become the player he once was on either side if he is not getting into the flow of the game?
Sure, Kobe is arguably playing the best ball of his career, but after 17 seasons how rational is it to play him close to 40 minutes a night? Plus, it’s not like the Lakers are playing great basketball with Bryant on the floor that much or shooting at high volumes. The Lakers are under .500 right now and 6-12 when Kobe shoots over 20 times. If that doesn’t scream to limit his minutes, what will?
Lowering Bryant’s minutes will give Howard more of an opportunity to become Superman again. Once he gets his feel back, adjusting to his current surroundings should become an easier transition.
The return of Steve Nash will allow the Lakers to limit Bryant’s minutes and still compete at a high level. We’ve seen it before with Nash—he makes everyone on the floor better. Let him do his thing and allow Kobe to get extra rest.
The long-term concern regarding Howard is the fact that he will be a free agent after this year. The Lakers must do everything possible to keep him happy and wanting to re-sign with L.A. They can start by giving him more touches.
Howard has given inclinations that that he would like to stay in L.A., but we all know how strong his decision-making process is. The Lakers mortgaged their future on him and they hope he will re-sign with the team. However, his health, ability and willingness to re-sign are all very much in question.
That means that Howard is carrying a lot of baggage right now. The weight of the defense is on his surgically repaired back—a struggling defense at that. He hasn’t looked like himself for most of the season and his team is not winning. Things may only get worse if the Lakers don’t turn things around, as that will make the free-agent questions arise, which may cause him to bolt, leaving the Lakers in an even bigger mess.
Suddenly anything associated with Gasol seems mundane.
*All stats are accurate as of January 2, 2013