When the Los Angeles Lakers traded for Dwight Howard, they understood that there was risk involved. Howard had one-year left on his deal and was due to hit free agency after the 2012-13 season. The Lakers thought the risk was worth taking because being a Laker would sell itself. Howard would be surrounded with the glitz and glamor of Los Angeles and become intrenched in the winning tradition that comes with the territory in Laker-land.
Unfortunately, things didn’t work out the way the Lakers hoped. The team never really gelled and the season was largely a circus. Howard himself appears to be miscast in Mike D’Antoni’s high tempo system and word got out that Howard was displeased with the Laker coach. This isn’t the first time Howard has had issues with a coach as he also had a falling out with Stan Van Gundy while with the Orlando Magic.
Howard himself didn’t appear to be the same player he was in Orlando. Granted, he was playing himself back into shape after back surgery and wasn’t supposed to be playing until January. Considering the injury, there’s a good chance the Lakers never saw Howard at 100 percent this season and odds are he will come back healthier and more effective in 2013-14. But back issues tend to linger and Howard isn’t getting younger.
From 2008 through 2011, Howard’s Magic teams went 219-102 and made a finals appearance. In his last two seasons with the Magic and Lakers, his teams went 75-55. His offensive production has also declined. Below are are his statistics for his last two full seasons (he only played 54 games in 2011-12 due to the lockout and injuries):
2010-11: 22.9 PPG, 14.1 RPG, 59% FG, 60% FT, 227 dunks
2012-13: 17.1 PPG, 12.4 RPG, 58% FG, 49% FT, 187 dunks
The dip in his numbers may be due to his back issues. It may be due to playing in a system and with teammates he never grew comfortable with. But Howard could also be on the downside on his career. While only 27 years old, Howard has already been in the league for nine seasons. That is nine years of banging and playing physical inside over nine long NBA seasons. For a player who already has back issues, he just may never be the same physically.
For the Lakers, what happens this summer could shape the future of their franchise. Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol are all in the twilight of great careers. The Lakers need to find a center piece for the their franchise for the next decade. Can Howard still be that type of player?
Given the uncertainty surrounding Howard and considering he hasn’t shown any commitment to re-signing with the Lakers, the team should be strongly considering sign and trade opportunities for the center. The most promising rumored sign and trade might be with a team they want to deal with the least, the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Clippers can offer the Lakers two young center pieces that can help the team transition to the next generation in Blake Griffin and Eric Bledsoe. In Griffin, the team would have a young superstar to be the face of the franchise after Bryant retires. Griffin has his faults defensively and needs to develop a consistent mid range jump shot but he is a dynamic talent who has averaged 20.4 points and 10.4 rebounds over his first three seasons. Beldsoe would give the Lakers a promising young point guard who can pair with Nash and eventually take over the starting role.
While the swap looks good on paper, the Lakers would be trading Howard to a team that plays in the same division, the same city, and the same building. That’s a big risk to take. If Howard teams with Chris Paul and wins a championship the Lakers could come out of this scenario with egg on their face. The same could be said for the Clippers though, if the Howard/Paul pairing fails and Griffin continues to develop while Bledsoe becomes an all star type point guard.
The worst case scenario is the Lakers walk out of this empty handed and don’t have Howard or any players in return for him. Even with the additional cap space they would have after 2014, it’s not a good idea to sit and hope they can make a run at LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony. That approach could leave them in the lurch all over again, without a franchise player to build around.
Photo Credit: Noah Graham/Getty Images
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