While the Los Angeles Lakers would love to keep superstar center Dwight Howard with the team for the long haul, it seems the team is coming to the realization that D12 is unhappy in Los Angeles and could look to deal him as a result.
Ramona Shelburne and Marc Stein of ESPN.com gave us the latest details about what the Lakers are thinking in regards to Howard's future with the team:
But sources told ESPN.com this week the Lakers might be forced to reconsider that position between now and the Feb. 21 trade deadline because of Howard's growing unhappiness with his role under coach Mike D'Antoni and the potential that raises for Howard leaving them in July without compensation.
As stated in the report, Howard will become an unrestricted free agent upon the completion of the 2012-13 season, and the Lakers run the risk of losing their big man. As was the case with the Orlando Magic, if Howard isn't happy, he will no doubt fly the coop.
Shelburne and Stein's report clearly shows Howard isn't happy with his role in head coach Mike D'Antoni's system:
Howard has, indeed, publicly struggled to mask his frustration in recent days about his role in D'Antoni's offense. After Monday's road loss to the Derrick Rose-less Chicago Bulls, in which he finished with eight points and attempted just five shots, Howard said: "They made it tough. I missed some shots early, didn't get an opportunity to go to work like I wanted to." When pressed further, Howard repeatedly pointed at a stat sheet (showing five shot attempts) and insisted the Lakers needed to "play inside-out."
To see how ineffective Howard has been in D'Antoni's system, all you have to do is look at his numbers. D12 is averaging 17.1 points and 12.3 rebounds per game. Both of those totals are his lowest since the 2006-07 season.
If D12 was to leave during the offseason, the Lakers would have nothing to show for his departure. That would be devastating to the future of the franchise, as the team is made up mostly of aging players.
Howard is the only youthful piece that the franchise can build around as the Kobe Bryant era begins to wind down.
So that leaves the Lakers in a tough position. If the team continues to play like the 17-24 team it currently is, Howard's desire to leave Los Angeles will only grow.
Fortunately for Los Angeles, the NBA trade deadline isn't until February 21. By that time, the Lakers' front office should have a pretty good idea about where the team stands and how happy its star center is.
The Brooklyn Nets are believed to still strongly intrigue Howard as a future destination after the Nets' long-running attempts to trade for him last season. But after re-signing Deron Williams and Brook Lopez last summer and taking on more than $300 million in long-term salary commitments, Brooklyn can only acquire Howard via trade now, which would likely require an additional team (or teams) to join in even if the Lakers were amenable.
Completing such a deal between the Nets and Lakers wouldn't be easy by any stretch, but it is certainly plausible.
The Lakers need to get younger, and there is no debating that. Los Angeles often looks slow on the perimeter and could use some youthful energy to help on the outside, both offensively and defensively.
Any deal with the Nets will likely center around Brook Lopez, but more players would need to be added in order to make a two-team deal work. That's where the Lakers could potentially add players like Gerald Wallace and/or MarShon Brooks to help boost their perimeter speed and overall defense, addressing two major needs in one shot.
If a third team were involved, that could further fill the Lakers roster with younger players. On top of that, the Lakers could be in a position to dump some salary in order to prepare for free-agent classes in the years to come.
At this point, the Lakers need to start planning for what is beginning to seem like the inevitable.
With the team losing and Howard unhappy in D'Antoni's system, L.A. can either trade Howard, replace D'Antoni with a coach whose system fits Howard's game or simply turn things around with the team as is and help deter D12 from jumping ship.
The third scenario doesn't seem nearly as likely as the first two, considering the Lakers have a coach who is allergic to defense (and as we all know, defense is this team's biggest problem). Without a major improvement on the defensive end of the floor, this team will continue to struggle, and that will only make it more probable that Howard leaves this summer.
The time to make a decision is rapidly approaching, and the trade deadline is less than a month away. On the surface, it might seem like a doomsday scenario if Howard were to be traded, but if that becomes a necessary move, the Lakers will still benefit from it.