Future Hall of Fame point guard Gary Payton could soon tack motivational speaker onto his list of skills. Appearing on the "Cardboard Clownin'" segment of ESPN's Sportsnation, Payton spoke to a cutout of Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard and told it to "get it together."
Of course, this was a knock at Howard and his seemingly constant struggles in head coach Mike D'Antoni's system. Howard is averaging 16.3 points, 11.8 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game but has been unable to become the explosive pick-and-roll center often required in D'Antoni's fast-paced offense.
While Howard may not necessarily want to hear criticism from one of the biggest trash-talkers in NBA history, particularly a retired one, Payton is absolutely right. The Lakers have underachieved horribly this season after landing both Howard and point guard Steve Nash over the summer and now find themselves 10th in the Western Conference and three-and-a-half games out of the final playoff spot.
D'Antoni's system has very specific roles and while the coach himself may be a little at fault for being unwilling to adjust his approach to get the best out of his players, like giving Pau Gasol more time in the low post, Howard needs to assume some responsibility as well.
Yes, he is a better player when allowed to work with his back to the basket, but that's just not the system he's in right now. Instead of trying to find a balance or completely change his role, he has to do exactly what Payton said: get it together and work hard to become a pick-and-roll 5.
That isn't to say that Howard is having a terrible season. On the whole, his numbers are respectable and were good enough to earn him a starter's spot at this weekend's All-Star Game.
He just needs to show that he can be a consistent producer in D'Antoni's offense, something he has failed to do all season. All back and shoulder injuries aside, the man's adjustment is critical to the Lakers finishing the season on a high note and possibly making the playoffs.
Otherwise, he will have been bested by Payton and will have a lot of thinking to do once Los Angeles' season is over.