Frustrations have mounted with the Lakers sitting at four games under .500 and well outside of the Western Conference playoff picture. Two straight rompings at the expense of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Milwaukee Bucks have quelled some of the widespread concerns, but not all of them.
And why would they?
Los Angeles' woes cannot be cured by two straight victories. Its problems stretch well beyond a promising performance in a couple of games. Those contests don't change the fact that the Lakers boast an aging core, a shallow to nonexistent supporting cast, a 20th-ranked defense and a payroll that exceeds $100 million.
Clearly, something needs to change. That something is not Howard.
Per Tom Haberstroh of ESPN.com, one avenue Los Angeles must explore if it wishes to right the ship is dealing Howard:
There's a host of reasons why the Lakers won't trade their next potential foundational piece, but he's easily their most tradeable asset. It makes sense on the fundamental level that the Lakers already have a center in Gasol and they probably can't move him unless they trade him at 10 cents on the dollar. So moving Howard would be the only way to drastically shake up the roster without breaking up the Nash-Bryant-Gasol core.
Though his back is a legitimate concern, it probably wouldn't be enough to scare away potential suitors in Dallas and Houston, two teams that could carve out the requisite cap space to get a deal done. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban publicly squashed any rumors that he'd trade Dirk Nowitzki last week, but that was before he publicly declared that the "the Bank of Cuban is open."
Sorry, but when you kick off a "solution" by acknowledging that there are a "host of reasons" why the team in question shouldn't endorse it, you neither have a leg nor a pirate's peg to stand on.
Los Angeles didn't acquire Howard with the intention of him being a rental; he's the Lakers' future beyond Kobe Bryant. They're not about to trade that away on a whim.
It's one thing to advocate change in Hollywood, it's another to back alterations that jeopardize your future.
At 27, Howard is easily the best center in the NBA. He's a stifling presence on the defensive end and an unstoppable force when he looks for his shot on offense. This is the same guy who remains the only player in the league currently averaging at least 15 points, 10 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game, a feat he has laid claim to while battling injuries, mind you.
Better yet, of the five Lakers averaging 30 or minutes a night, Howard is the only one younger than 32. You're telling me Los Angeles would ship out its youngest pillar?
And getting real includes putting this Howard for Nowitzki rumor to bed as well. Not only did David Baumann of NBC Sports hear straight from Mark Cubans mouth (or keyboard) that it wasn't going to happen, but it makes absolutely no sense for the Lakers.
In Nowitzki you have a 34-year-old who is on his last legs and Los Angeles already has three of those in Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash. Adding yet another one would prove detrimental—especially at the expense of a spry Howard.
Granted, the Lakers expected more than 17.8 points and 12.6 rebounds per game out of Howard, but is that any reason to deal him?
Um, no. Not when this team readily invested its future in him and he himself (via Sam Amick of USA Today), remains actively vested in them:
While Bryant is the one with the storied past and present with these Lakers, Howard is seen by both them and him as the future. He has yet to make any promises about re-signing with the Lakers when he becomes a free agent this summer, but continued to sound as if his plans don't include any other teams. The power shift, he made clear, is already underway.
"I know who (Bryant) is to this team, what he has been to this team for a long time," Howard continued. "But there's going to come a day where he's going to be gone, and that's when I have to step in and fill that void and take this team to the next level. That's why I'm here. That's why they wanted me here, and I'm going to do my job and my part to make sure this team gets there – and it starts with me.
The only way Los Angeles would even consider dealing Howard is if he had exhibited an inclination to leave via free agency this summer. But he hasn't. He's done just the opposite.
What some (Haberstroh) fail to grasp is that what's happening in Tinseltown is bigger than now. A huge portion of the Lakers' present blueprint has to deal with tomorrow.
Kobe, Pau and Metta World Peace are set to become free agents after next season, and Nash follows suit the season after.
Howard is the only face of the future. Outside of him, the Lakers have little to no stability beyond next season. How could they possibly justify giving up what little assurance they have when the player they would be relinquishing has no intention of going anywhere?
They can't. And they won't.
Not as long as Howard remains receptive to the task Los Angeles has laid at his feet. Not as long as the team's roster reads like a tale of yesterday. Not as long as he's the one defensive constant this coalition has.
And most certainly not as long as Howard provides the Lakers with the best possible chance of salvaging the rest of today while preserving the state of their tomorrow.
*All stats in this article are accurate as of January 15, 2013.
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