The Los Angeles Lakers are in danger of missing the playoffs for just the sixth time in the history of the franchise, and with the trade deadline just two days away, it’s time to seriously consider trading Dwight Howard.
It looked at times as though Kobe Bryant would pull the team through its rough patch before the All-Star break, but with a 25-29 record and a 3.5-game gap between the Lakers and the eighth-place Houston Rockets, the prospects of a playoff run are fading fast.
Los Angeles has been the subject of rampant trade rumors and intense scrutiny this season. As Bryant does everything he can to hoist the team on his shoulder, the talk may be taking its toll. According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, Bryant seemed “indifferent” when asked about the trade rumors involving Dwight Howard that began to swirl during All-Star weekend.
“I don't know what they're going to do. At this point, it doesn't matter.”
It’s easy to understand Bryant’s frustration. He’s a winner, and he’s always done his talking on the court with a basketball in his hands. The idea of missing the playoffs after the Lakers loaded up for a championship run this offseason can’t sit well with him, and he probably wasn’t implying that he doesn’t want Howard on the team.
Still, that might be the best course of action for Los Angeles at this point.
According to Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times, the new luxury tax restrictions presented in the league’s collective bargaining agreement could put the Lakers on the hook for about $81.5 million in luxury tax next year. In comparison, Los Angeles will likely only spend about $30 million for this year’s tax.
The Lakers have never been concerned about spending money to win championships, but the odds of adding another title this year are slim, and the Howard experiment has proved to be fruitless thus far. At 27 years old, Howard should be in the prime of his career, but injuries have taken their toll. He’s simply not the player he was in Orlando.
The superstar center could easily revert back to his old form with an offseason to rest and repair, but where will he spend next season? There’s no guarantee he will re-sign with the Lakers, and at this point, they should begin to wonder if Howard is even the right fit in Los Angeles.
General manager Mitch Kupchak has certainly considered all his options. With the impending luxury tax spike and a season that has failed to meet every expectation, Kupchak wouldn’t be doing his job if he didn’t consider all possible avenues.
Still, Kupchak has passionately denied any interest in making a big deal before the deadline, especially one involving Howard. In an interview with Newsday.com’s Steven Marcus more than two weeks ago, Kupchak was adamant about what the Lakers would and would not do before the February 21 deadline:
We will not make a trade. We will not trade Dwight Howard. We have no intention of making a trade. It's unlikely that we'll make any trade with any of our principal players. To make another change at this time of the year being behind the eight-ball like we are, I think that would just make it more difficult. The talent is there. We have to find our way.
Even after Kupchak’s remarks, rumors again began to swirl of a deal that would send Howard to the Boston Celtics in exchange for injured point guard Rajon Rondo (via BostonHerald.com). And once again, the GM stood pat on his stance to keep Howard in Los Angeles (as reported by ESPN’s Chris Broussard).
“I haven't talked to Danny Ainge in weeks. I made the statement a week or two ago that we're not going to trade Dwight Howard and that hasn't changed.”
It’s time for Kupchak to start seriously considering it. The Lakers have just 28 games to right the ship and move into a playoff position—and there’s no guarantee they will make much of an impact in the playoffs should they find a way to sneak in. The time to focus on this season has nearly passed, and the future of the team is now at stake.
Bryant only has so many years left to add some more rings to his fingers. Howard could choose to walk in free agency, and Steve Nash is 39 years old. The window to make some big moves for the future closes in two days, and it’s time to start preparing.
Bryant’s apparent indifference on the trade talk involving Howard only proves how treacherous the waters are for the Lakers right now. They need to do something, and it may have to happen at Howard’s expense.