Blueprint for Dwight Howard's Long-Term Success with LA Lakers
As shallow as the Lakers are on paper, there's no need for them to be living amongst the cellar-dwellers of the NBA. And there's no need to panic about the big man's future in Los Angeles. It can be salvaged.
But while the Lakers have no intention of dealing Howard, the lack of direction in Hollywood is cause for concern for the free-agent-to-be.
I seriously doubt that Howard is going to walk away from the Lakers, the extra year and the $20-plus million more they can offer him. Knowing Howard, departing just wouldn't make sense. He wants to further his brand and there's no better place than Tinseltown (save maybe for New York) for him to do it.
Ignoring his current antipathy for what has transpired thus far, however, is simply not an option either. Concerns must be quelled, responsibilities must be illustrated and a blueprint for success must be laid out.
Only then can the ambiguity surrounding his impending free-agency be eradicated.
And only then will the Lakers have the ability to right this capsizing ship.
*All stats used in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference, Synergy Sports and 82games.com unless otherwise noted.
Step One: Go One-on-One with Mike D'Antoni
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To clarify, by "one-on-one" I in no way mean these two should take to the hardwood to settle their differences. I mean, as overwhelming as Dwight Howard is, I'm pretty sure Magic Mike and his 'stache have him beat (kidding).
What these two should do, though, is have a sit down where everything is aired out. Mike D'Antoni held a similar meeting for the entire team already, but he and Howard really need an exclusive one.
Right now, the big man doesn't trust D'Antoni and hasn't bought into this uptempo offense of his. There are compromises to be made, but only if he and his coach iron them out behind closed doors, not via the media.
Howard needs to understand his role and D'Antoni needs to comprehend what his big man is actually looking to do. I'm not ready to call this union a failure, but time is running out for this dyad to reach common ground.
Before that mutual understanding can be reached, though, these two need to talk.
Step Two: Become a Better Passer
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For Dwight Howard to excel in this current offense, he's going to have to keep an open-mind. And from there, he's going to have to become a better passer.
I'm not saying Howard shouldn't be scoring—because he should—but he needs to be dishing out between three and five dimes a game, not 1.7.
I've noticed a tendency of his to put his head down and force his way to the hoop once he gets the ball in the post. While you love to see him be aggressive, his 3.1 turnovers per game aren't doing the Lakers any favors when he's double-teamed.
Teams are going to swarm Howard. It's the only way to stop that 6'11" and 240-pound frame of his. But they won't be able to double- or triple-team him with such disregard if he keeps his head up and shows he's willing hit an open Earl Clark or Metta World Peace.
And with the opposition forced to respect his inclination to pass, he'll see more single-coverage. From here he can exploit his defender how he sees fit—as long as he keeps his head up.
To that end, however, Howard must come full circle by...
Step Three: Eliminate Hack-a-Howard
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...improving his free-throw shooting.
Acknowledging Dwight Howard's poor conversion rate from the foul line is like beating a thrice dead horse, but it's important for him to improve upon it long-term.
Big Dwight is hitting on just 50.4 percent of free-throws, the second-lowest mark of his career. But he's also present at the charity stripe 9.6 times a night, meaning that plenty of points are being left on the board.
Once again, for Howard to assimilate into this offense, he's going to have to be receptive to anything—including the failures that plagued him his entire career.
Should he be able to hit even 65 percent of his free-throws, Hack-a-Howard exists only in the final two minutes of a tightly contested matchup. For the other 46 minutes, teams will be forced to actually defend him instead of using what are essentially goons to constantly foul him.
Howard is already a tough cover with his poor sense of court awareness and horrific foul-shooting percentage. Could you imagine how difficult it would be to contain him if he could pass and hit more than 60 percent of his free-throws?
Damn near impossible, I'd say.
Step Four: Continue to Remember Why You're in Los Angeles
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As Dwight Howard continues to do what he can to acclimate himself to Los Angeles' offense, he must also remember why he is donning purple and gold in the first place—his defense.
I wouldn't go as far as to say Howard doesn't need to concern himself with him offense, but he can't allow it to effect his defense. And he has.
He himself has admitted that for the Lakers to win, he needs to dominate defensively more than anything else. Los Angeles needs him to be the vocal leader of its 23rd-ranked offense, the kind that makes it so the team isn't ranked that low anymore.
Howard hasn't played poor defense this far by any means. He's fourth in the league in blocks per game (2.5), holds opposing centers to a below-average PER of 14.2 per 48 minutes and the Lakers are allowing 3.5 points per 100 possessions fewer with him on the floor.
As far as leading the defensive charge, though, Howard is not as voluminous as he once was. The Lakers need the Howard who wasn't afraid to call out Kobe Bryant's transgressions, the one who was continuously demanding perfection and commitment from his teammates.
Los Angeles' defense isn't going to change now or anytime soon unless Howard is the one who instills that change.
And instill it he must.
Step Five: Understand You Play for a Super Team
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Of everything that Dwight Howard must do to ensure long term success in the City of Angels, nothing is more important than comprehending the Lakers aren't your average, run-of-the-mill convocation—they're a super team.
On paper, the Lakers have assembled what appears to be the most star-studded faction in the Association. On the court and in the locker room, though, it's been a different story.
From in-game blunders to postgame confrontations, Howard (and some of his teammates) need to grasp the gravity of what is trying to be built here.
Powerhouses don't have this pecking order that Howard and the Lakers continue to grapple over. Steve Nash and even Kobe Bryant seem to understand the vision of this faction outweighs that of an individual, and Howard must draw the same conclusion.
Before you troll the comment section, Laker nation, I get that Bryant has sacrificed much on the surface. He's still attempting more than 22 shots a game and second in the league with 29.2 points a night. But he attempted to involve Howard more and is willing to put the needs of the team in front of his point totals.
Howard must develop the same kind of mindset. After all, he's going to be asked to preach this same mantra to another aggregate once Kobe, Nash and Pau Gasol are but memories.
When playing for a super team, your personal statistics aren't supposed to matter–winning is. Of course, Howard wants to win, but he has to make that an unconditional desire.
If he has play a diminished role on offense or simply pass more so the Lakers can score in excess then so be it. If he's asked to clear out so Gasol can go to work in the post on occasion, then who cares?
He has to get that everything from hereon out is about winning a title. Carmelo Anthony wouldn't be thriving in New York if he wasn't willing to (finally) make sacrifices. And the Miami Heat wouldn't have won a title had they believed otherwise either.
Once Howard adopts a similar set of ideals, he becomes that much more valuable to this championship cause.
And every one that follows.