HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Here we go again.
The Feb. 21 trade deadline is fast approaching and guess whose name is at the top of the list, just like last season? That’s right, Dwight Howard. The formerly disgruntled Orlando Magic star has apparently been replaced by Dwight Howard, the disgruntled Los Angeles Lakers star. The Magic’s Dwightmare of a year ago now becomes the Lakers’ burden this time around.
And that means the wheels are turning in front offices around the league, what with the prospect of Howard becoming available before he becomes a free agent at season’s end, which for the Lakers could very well be mid-April.
These latest developments thrust other teams into the thick of the Howard sweepstakes, with prospective summer free-agent players Dallas and Atlanta joining the usual suspects (the Lakers and Brooklyn Nets) in the conversation. The Lakers’ pitiful season is what has reignited the Dwightmare dilemma … plus the fact that Brooklyn was his preferred destination all along.
And depending on who you listen to and what you read, there’s a dizzying array of possibilities being considered by the different sides in this saga.
RealGM.com’s Jarrod Rudolph reports the Nets are ready to finish what they started last season and finally bring Howard to Brooklyn, with Brook Lopez (and a third team needed to help facilitate a deal) as the return piece. Of course, there is the obligatory return volley that says Lopez is safe, from Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News, the best part coming at the end: “It’s not the same as it was last year,” said a Nets source. “We don’t need Dwight.”
Interesting. But that won’t slow down the stream of rumors suggesting otherwise.
With the Lakers stuck in the 12th spot in the Western Conference playoff chase, no one outside of Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash should feel comfortable in that Lakers’ locker room.
And if Kobe’s words, tweets and facial expressions mean anything, something has to change. Because it’s clear, as ESPN.com‘s Ramona Shelburne and Marc Stein point out, that the real crack in the Lakers’ foundation is the rift between its two biggest stars:
“Obviously, this isn’t working,” Lakers star Kobe Bryant told Yahoo! Sports after the Chicago loss.
“I’ve tried to go out of my way to get (Howard) the ball. Sometimes I end up looking like an idiot, because I get up in the air, I’ve got a shot, but I try to find him. But he thinks I’m going to shoot, so his back is turned. I’m trying to think about getting him the ball a lot — take care of him as much as I possibly can. It takes me out of rhythm a little bit, but I’m fine with that. If that’s going to help our team, I’m more than willing to do that.
“I’ve constantly tried to help him out, tried to talk to him,” Bryant continued. “Two o’clock in the morning, three o’clock in the morning. Texting him. Sharing reading materials. Anything to try and help him.
“He’s coming off a major surgery in a market where it’s just merciless; where there’s demands and responsibilities of athletes. It’s been tough on him.”
The blame in L.A. has been widespread, with both Howard and Gasol facing criticism for not battling through these tough times with the needed resolve. D’Antoni getting second-guessed with rising volume for not tweaking his spread-the-floor system to accommodate his marquee players and Bryant critiquing himself this week for missing too many shots on an 0-2 road trip that has spiraled into six straight losses away from Staples Center and three straight losses overall heading into Thursday’s game at Memphis.
If Lakers fans have to pick a side, Howard might as well start packing his bags now. In the past, they’ve chosen Kobe in landslides over former big man Shaquille O’Neal and ex-coach Phil Jackson, among others. Howard doesn’t stand a chance in winning over the fan base, the franchise and perhaps most importantly, the locker room.
It seems pretty obvious that Kobe and Nash have gone out of their way to make Howard feel as comfortable as possible and still these issues persist. With time running out on their season and that Feb. 21 escape hatch getting closer and closer, something has to give …