There are a multitude of factors at stake, including the media's constant attention on the NBA's most talented underachieving team, the endless trade rumors and, most importantly, Howard's relationship with the Lakers' franchise player Kobe Bryant. That relationship will ultimately determine how far these Lakers can advance this season.
The real problem in L.A. is that Howard and Kobe seem incapable of communicating effectively, instead doing most of their talking through the media. Regarding Howard's shoulder injury, Bryant told ESPNBoston.com's Jackie MacMullen:
"We don't have time for (Howard's shoulder) to heal. We need some urgency."
Bryant continued his attack of Howard, noting:
Dwight worries too much about what people think. I told him, "You can't worry about that. It's holding you back." He says, "OK, OK, OK," but it's always hovering around him.
In typical Lakers fashion, Howard replied to these comments through the media. Look at his response in this video. Howard is dismissive of Bryant's comments, but certainly doesn't seem likely to hash them out with Kobe privately.
Adding fuel to the fire was Howard's father, who claims that Bryant and Howard need to work out their issues with help from Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni. In an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, reported by Jeff Schultz, Dwight Howard Sr. rejected Bryant's comments, stating:
Nobody can say what Kobe said -- that’s stepping into another man’s shoes. I understand what Kobe was trying to do, but he went about it the wrong way. He’s trying to win a championship. But Dwight has to tell Kobe, ‘I appreciate your opinion, but that doesn’t matter. We’re two men on this team. We need to be reasonable about this.
As little as this relationship needed more media scrutiny, Howard Sr. is spot on. These two need to talk—not through the media, but to each other.
That will be difficult, if not impossible for these two massive egos, but it must be done to save the Lakers. They simply should not discuss one another to the media. Every time they do, Bryant and Howard distract from the basketball issues plaguing this team, putting the spotlight only on themselves.
All season long, the Lakers have allowed the strenuous relationships on the team distract from their play. How can this team expect to get better if it's too busy focusing on personal issues?
Even if these personal issues go away, the Lakers will have plenty of basketball issues to work out. But they need to address the Howard-Bryant relationship before they can truly start to fix the problems on the court.