How LA Lakers Can Counter Dwight Howard Pitches from Outside Suitors
Howard is an unrestricted free agent, and starting on July 1, he will dive into the familiar waters of the drama, rumors and questions that come along with free agency.
According to Marc Stein of ESPN, the Atlanta Hawks, Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets are all planning on making serious runs at D12, and the Lakers are going to have their hands full trying to bring him back for a second run in LA. The Hawks are the only team that can sign both Howard and Chris Paul, the Mavericks run a big-man offense and James Harden is recruiting Howard to make Houston a powerhouse. There are appealing options everywhere he looks and Howard relishes all of the attention he receives when making decisions like this.
However, the Lakers have a financial advantage over the suitors who are looking to steal Howard away from Los Angeles. According to ESPN Los Angeles, “Howard can sign a five-year, $118 million max-level extension to stay in L.A. come July 1. The most he could receive if he were to leave is a four-year deal worth $87.6 million.”
Will this decision be all about money? If so, the Lakers are in luck. Unfortunately for LA, the destination that Howard chooses will likely come down to a combination of factors, with winning, off-the-court opportunities (endorsements, movies), teammates and coach likely being at the top of that list.
It’s not going to be easy by any means, but the Lakers can keep Howard. The organization needs to be willing to make some serious sacrifices for the player who has the power to make or break the team's chances in 2014.
Illustrate His Potential for Greatness
The history and prestige of the Lakers franchise doesn’t seem to resonate with Howard. For most players, looking up at the rafters and seeing names like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and Shaquille O’Neal hanging there would make an impact on them.
“Maybe I can become one of them,” most would think. But it just doesn’t seem to click with D12; Los Angeles needs to figure out a way to make it click. Maybe they can have those players talk to Howard, or maybe they can show him what his jersey would look like up there.
Whatever they do, it needs to be good. Howard does have the potential to become a great NBA player; not good, but great, and the Lakers must show him their franchise is the one that will give him the best shot at becoming legendary.
Fire Mike D'Antoni
If it comes down to an ultimatum of Dwight Howard, the best center in the NBA, or Mike D’Antoni, a coach who barely took a team with three future Hall of Famers to the playoffs, the choice is clear for the Lakers.
Call him a coach killer, call him immature or call him whatever you want. It won’t change the fact that Howard is the future of the Lakers, and the team needs to be willing to do whatever it takes to keep him.
Rick Carlisle’s scheme would suit Howard better than D’Antoni’s did this season, and so would Kevin McHale’s in Houston. If Los Angeles wants to hang on to D12, they may have to part ways with a coach who really did a poor job with a loaded roster this season. They shouldn't be too devastated about that.
Make Him the Franchise Player
Howard met with general manager Mitch Kupchak after this season (per ESPN Los Angeles) and reportedly voiced his frustrations with his coach for being “marginalized” and not being a central part of the offense until the very end of the season. Kupchak remains hopeful that Howard will return next season, though, and insists that the All-Star center will be the featured piece on offense next season with Kobe Bryant on the sidelines.
This isn’t groundbreaking news; this is common sense for the Lakers. The Mamba is out, so the team will give the ball to its next best player. But what happens when Bryant comes back? Will it be Howard’s team?
The answer to that question has to be a resounding “yes.”
Bryant, although an all-time great, is 34 years old and is coming off of an injury that has decimated careers of players much younger than him. He will probably come back strong and be a lot more effective than he is projected to be (simply because he’s Kobe) but that doesn’t change the fact that Howard wants, and needs, to be the go-to-guy.
And to keep him, the Lakers need to promise that he will be.
Encourage Kobe's Recruiting
Howard and Bryant had a rocky relationship this season, but what did we expect? Pairing up a guy who smiles as much as he sweats on the court with guy who has perhaps the most vicious mentality since Michael Jordan could never work.
But Bryant is a true Laker—he bleeds purple and gold, and despite his injury, he will help the team this season. How? By recruiting D12 to stay in LA.
Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) May 21, 2013
If Howard can’t be swayed by one of the greatest players in the history of the NBA, maybe there’s no hope for him. He’ll put up 20 and 10 wherever he goes but might never fulfill his potential to become a champion. He might just be too immature.
However, the likelihood that Bryant will influence Howard, at least to some degree, is great. Anytime someone with a legacy like Bryant’s gives advice, it’d be wise to listen.
Make the Roster More Appealing
Other than Pau Gasol, Howard would be the only real player in a Lakers uniform. Sure, he wants to be the superstar, but even superstars need a little bit of help.
To keep D12 in LA, the front office needs to go out and get him some assistance. Anthony Morrow, Corey Brewer, Chase Budinger—anyone, just get him some guys who can put the ball in the basket. Howard is not going to come back to Los Angeles if he’s the only credible NBA player on the team (with the exception of Gasol). The Lakers better strike quick, though, because Howard could be gone if they don’t act fast enough.
And if Howard goes, the chances of a successful 2014 campaign (and probably several years after that) leave with him.
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