To say that the Los Angeles Lakers and Dwight Howard have been a complete and total mismatch so far would be an understatement. The team is a mess, and he is having by far the worst season of his career.
In fairness to Howard, the Lakers acquired him as he was coming off back surgery. Having back problems as an athlete is going to change a lot of things about the way you play, especially as you learn to work around it.
On top of the back issues, Howard has battled shoulder problems. Even for a player who plays close to the rim like he does, having an injury like that is going to alter the way he turns and shoots or how aggressive he will be near the basket.
Yet that didn't stop Kobe Bryant from telling Jackie MacMullan of ESPN Boston (via ESPN.com) Howard that he needs to learn to play through the pain before the Lakers' loss against Boston on Thursday night.
We don't have time for (Howard's shoulder) to heal. We need some urgency.
(Howard) has never been in a position where someone is driving him as hard as I am, as hard as this organization is. It's win a championship or everything is a complete failure. That's just how (the Lakers) do it. And that's foreign to him.
The urgency set in a few weeks ago, yet the Lakers are still just 23-27 and Howard's performance hasn't changed because he still isn't healthy. There is only so much a player can do when he is limited physically.
Howard finally decided that he was tired of sitting on the sidelines letting everyone else tell him what he needs to be doing. Prior to Thursday's game, he told the media (via ESPN.com) that he is doing all that he can right now.
This is my career. If I go down, then what? Everybody's life is going to go on. I don't want to have another summer where I'm rehabbing and trying to get healthy again. I want to come back and have another great year. That's what I want to do.
In addition to addressing all the critics, Howard specifically addressed the comments made by Bryant, saying that " he's not a doctor, I'm not a doctor. That's his opinion."
The fault doesn't lie with Howard. The Lakers knew exactly what they were getting into when they traded for a player coming off back surgery. I am sure he passed a physical to make the deal official, but you can't predict how things will flare up in game action.
At 27 years old, and given the typical life span of a seven-foot player in the NBA, Howard may not have a lot of time left to be an elite player (for the record, he is still averaging 16.3 points, 11.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game).
Since he is approaching free agency, Howard knows that this is his last chance to get that max contract he wants and his performance suggests he has earned. That deal is not going to come if he is rehabbing an injury.
If you want to question Howard's desire to win, that is your prerogative. Yet he is still going out there more often than not, having played in 44 of the team's 50 games, and producing at a high level.
The situation in Los Angeles has gotten incredibly uncomfortable because Howard's personality doesn't mesh with Bryant's, but it is unfair to say that Howard isn't putting himself out there and trying.