ESPN's Chris Broussard is reporting that the Los Angeles Lakers will not trade Dwight Howard this season, but that is a decision that GM Mitch Kupchak must reconsider. Howard has posted respectable averages of 16.5 points, 11.9 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game, but the scoring and rebounding totals are below his career marks of 18.3 and 12.9.
The sad truth is that though the Lakers can offer Howard more money than any other potential suitor this coming offseason, the man just isn't a right fit for head coach Mike D'Antoni's fast-paced system. His production is terribly inconsistent, with him going from as many as 16 field-goal attempts one night to as few as five another. In a run-and-gun offense that calls for the center to be on the receiving end of the pick-and-roll quite a bit, it's becoming clear that Howard is better suited to playing the low post.
More importantly, look at how the Lakers have done in their last three games, which Howard has missed with a shoulder injury. Los Angeles has won all three and is 3-3 in games in which he has not played.
As much as some Lakers fans may hate to admit it, this is because Pau Gasol is better at the 5, especially in D'Antoni's system. Heck, he himself has even said that more time in the low post would help his overall performance, and his performance in Howard's absence shows it. Over his last five games, be it as Howard's backup or spot starter at the 5, Gasol has averaged 16.2 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.
Now, the general consensus in Lakerland appears to be simple. The team will try to re-sign Howard this offseason and try to trade Gasol.
I don't mean to burst Kupchak's bubble, but this is easier said than done. Gasol is set to make just under $19.3 million next season, and that's a lot of money to ask any team to take on, even for an expiring contract. More importantly, Gasol turns 33 in July and is starting to slow down with age.
That said, the Lakers should try to trade Howard this season, make Gasol the starting center (at least once he is back from his recent foot injury) and use the money available this summer to achieve one of two goals.
The team should either look to extend power forward Earl Clark, who has been great as a stretch 4 in D'Antoni's offense to the tune of 13.8 points and 10.4 rebounds over his last five games, or seek to use Clark in a sign-and-trade deal that would land them someone like Josh Smith. Both players could be excellent fits in D'Antoni's system, and it would just be a matter of Kupchak and team owner Jerry Buss deciding which player they thought was a better fit.
Regardless of what team management decides in that circumstance, one thing is certain. Dwight Howard is not the right player to man the 5 for the Lakers, and the numbers don't lie. Instead of ranking at or near the top of the Western Conference, Los Angeles is 23-26 and three and a half games out of the No. 8 spot, despite winning six of seven.
Thus, though he may have already decided not to trade Howard, it's time for Kupchak to start working the phones in search of the best deal for his team's top center.