The solution then?
Don't trade Howard.
That we even have to acknowledge the obvious is insane, yet here we are. Halfway through the season, the Lakers are seven games under .500 and four games short of a playoff berth. Naturally, all hell in Hollywood has broken loose.
Per Ramona Shelburne and Marc Stein of ESPN.com, Los Angeles would prefer not to deal its big man, but has not ruled his departure out:
The Los Angeles Lakers have consistently turned away trade inquiries in recent weeks for All-Star center Dwight Howard and still believe they have a strong chance of signing him to a new contract when Howard becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer, according to sources close to the situation.
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.
Tinseltown's concern is a genuine one. Whenever a superstar is set to hit free agency, a certain level of trepidation is inevitable. The key is a proper reaction to such apprehension. Or, in this case, inaction.
The Lakers can't trade Howard; they shouldn't even think about it. Nearly two years was spent pining over his existence, toiling with the futures of Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol and constructing a blueprint for life after Kobe. Now, you're telling me they're ready to cast their diligence aside less than 50 games into the season? Let's get real.
Los Angeles' struggles are very real. Its defense is ranked 21st in points allowed per 100 possessions, its bench ranks 27th in points scored per game, Bryant's efficiency has plummeted and Gasol's production and morale are on life support. Do they really want to add the absence of Howard to that list?
Only if the team is keen on its first lottery finish since 2005.
Though the Lakers remain one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA, they're allowing 3.8 points per 100 possessions less when Howard is on the floor. He personally (per 82games.com) is holding opposing centers to a PER of 14.2 per 48 minutes, and according to Synergy Sports, he's allowing just 0.63 points points per defensive possession, the fourth-best mark in the league.
Again, I ask: How does a team struggling defensively entertain the notion of parting ways with their most effective defender? Because he's frustrated on offense? Puh-lease.
As Shelburne and Stein report, Howard has "soured" on Mike D'Antoni's uptempo offense. And as Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register reports, he's not a fan of the pick-and-roll attack either:
He said specifically after the Dec. 13 loss in New York that he likes the ball in the post, not via pick-and-roll plays – a logical reason he was so interested in the Lakers hiring Phil Jackson, the man who made Shaquille O'Neal a champion. On Monday night, Howard dwelled again on the individual negative after not getting many inside touches early on while Mike D'Antoni made an honest attempt to coach from the heart – benching Pau Gasol and investing anew in the pick-and-roll game the Lakers hired him to teach, however misguided that might be with the personnel as is.
If I'm the Lakers, do you know what I do about Howard's frustrations?
Strike that, I'd hand him a mirror. I'd tell him this offense is still ranked eighth in points scored per 100 possessions with his self-inflicted outcasting, abysmal free-throw shooting and lackluster effort.
Then I'd tell him that his preference to get the ball in post-up sets is ridiculous, completely inane.
Because (per Synergy Sports) Howard ranks 72nd in the league in points scored per possession (0.78) on post-ups. Off the pick-and-roll, however, Howard is ranked 14th in points scored per possession (1.15).
Do you know what I wouldn't do, though?
Trade him, or even entertain the thought of trading him.
As unhappy as Howard is, he virtually has no other options. Not if he wants to salvage what's left of his image. Spurning the Orlando Magic is one thing, but turning your back on a franchise that is committed to winning more than any other team in the league is another.
Toss in the fact that the Lakers can offer him one more year's worth of job security than any other faction and there's no reason for Howard to leave, especially after just one season.
This isn't to say that Howard isn't important to what Los Angeles is attempting to do here, because he is. He's the face of the future, the one who is supposed to lead the Lakers toward continued prominence long after the Black Mamba has retired. Should the franchise be that concerned with his disposition, then they must remind him of that, they must reiterate their plans for him and the team.
But they shouldn't trade him.
Not when he remains the best center in the game. Not when he's such a big part of their future.
And most certainly not when Howard needs the Lakers just as much as they need him.
"All I can tell you guys is we’ve got to keep believing," Howard told Ding. "We can’t lose faith in each other."
When the alternative is losing and subverting the very essence of their future, the Lakers can't afford to displace their faith in Howard either.
*All stats in this article are accurate as of January 22, 2013.
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