The Los Angeles Lakers have won seven of their last nine games and are closing in on a Western Conference playoff spot, but don't think for a second the drama will be stopping anytime soon.
Playing in the "Entertainment Capital of the World," the Lakers have taken their city's nickname to heart. When there isn't a drove of trade rumors swirling around Pau Gasol, Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard are going nose-to-nose in the locker room. When the constant Dwight Howard free-agency speculation dies down, Mike D'Antoni decides to shoot off a one-liner at Ricky Rubio.
When...OK, you get the point.
No team's news cycle ever stops in our 24/7 media culture, but it comes in never-ending waves with the Lakers—especially this iteration. With that in mind, let's take a look at all the latest reports coming out of Tinseltown.
Pau Gasol Expected to Miss 6-8 Weeks With Torn Plantar Fascia
Just when Pau Gasol's nightmarish 2012-13 season started to take a turn for the better, it once again has veered hard for the worse. The seven-footer had put up consecutive double-doubles while starting in Howard's stead, and was finally starting to look like his former self prior to Tuesday's game against the Brooklyn Nets.
It was in the fourth quarter of that contest that Gasol went down hard, grabbing his foot in obvious discomfort. Thought initially to be a strain of his plantar fascia, the Spaniard will reportedly miss the next six to eight weeks after an MRI revealed a tear in the foot muscle, according to ESPN's J.A. Adande:
Though Gasol was in the midst of his worst career season, his injury is obviously crippling for the Lakers. They already lost top backup Jordan Hill for the season, and Howard seemingly has a new ailment or recurring injury crop up every week. Mike D'Antoni may not like two big men mucking up his court space, but completely lacking any healthy options is the Lakers' worst nightmare.
And say what you will about Gasol's season, but the Lakers were nearly four points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor, per NBA.com.
On the bright side, at least the Lakers can finally put to rest all the rampant trade talk. Very few teams were desperate to bring in the 32-year-old, $19 million man in the first place, and now Gasol will certainly finish the season in L.A.
Kobe Bryant Denies He Wants Dwight to Play Injured
"We don't have time for (Howard's shoulder) to heal," Bryant said. "We need some urgency."
As has been prone to happen, perspective was almost completely thrown out the window from the moment those words left Bryant's mouth. Though there was less than 24 hours from MacMullan's story hitting the internet and the Lakers' game against Boston, constant reactionary stories hit the web reacting to Bryant "calling out" Howard.
Well, Bryant seems to think his quote was taken out of context. After speaking with Howard prior to the Lakers' 116-95 loss, Bryant talked to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski and denied that he was trying to get the Lakers center to play while injured.
Listen, I really think people ran in the wrong direction with those quotes. And I think that put Dwight on the defense, put him a little on edge. But that wasn't the intention, nor the purpose.
Whether or not Bryant's intention was to force Howard into playing, the pressure seemed to work. Howard returned to the starting lineup against Boston, putting up just nine points and nine rebounds in 28 minutes of action, as the Lakers ran into a Celtics squad that's building on a freight train-like momentum.
What's more, Howard looked noticeably unhealthy. He was lumbering down in the paint, turned the ball over four times and simply did not seem comfortable on the floor. Whether that was Howard just working off a little court rust or not, perception has become everything with these Lakers.
And right now, the perception is that Howard and Bryant aren't on the best of terms. No denials from Bryant will be able to change that.
Hakeem Olajuwon Still Thinks D12 Will Re-Sign With Lakers
All that being said, there is at least one prominent figure in Howard's life who thinks all this turmoil will matter not during the summer. Hakeem Olajuwon, who famously worked out with the Lakers' big man in 2010 and 2011, still thinks Howard will return to Los Angeles, according to an interview he did with Fox Sports' Chris Thomasson:
He loves L.A. He feels like it's a great chance for him to win a championship, and he wants to be another great center for the Lakers of the future. He thought it was the best fit for him personally. He came to us (in 2011 with one of his representatives to Olajuwon's ranch outside Houston) and they already thought that should be the destination.
Olajuwon and Howard have had a mentor-mentee relationship since those workouts, so it's hard to deny the viability of the legendary center's thoughts. However, "The Dream" also hasn't talked to Howard in a while, per Thomasson, and will get a truer feeling of where his protege stands when they link up over All-Star Weekend.
Had Olajuwon's quote come after the Houston festivities, then crack the bubbly, Lakers fans. But this 2012-13 season has been nothing short of a nightmare, both for Howard and the Lakers.
For now, I tend to believe Howard, who has refused to give a concrete answer on what he will do in free agency. He may have initially had the Lakers as a second choice behind the Brooklyn Nets, but a ton has changed since August.
So while speculation is fun, that's all it is, even from someone as respected as Olajuwon.