It’s no secret that the Los Angeles Lakers have built their franchise on risk taking and money spending. From the showtime era to the current…well… not so showtime era, the Lakers have always been happy to spend the extra money, and take the extra risk to ensure that silverware returned to the city. This ethos has paid off for the Lakers time and time again, but now, they face a whole new risk and as of 3PM (US EST) today, they officially handed over the reigns to a man who now has the club, and the people of LA eating out of the palm of his hand and bowing to his every need. The Lakers are now at the beckon call of Dwight Howard and if this team is to succeed in the near future, it is imperative that they do all they can to keep him. I have argued, as have many, that the Lakers, in order to remain top dog should trade Howard as the risk of losing him to free agency for nothing is too great a risk to take. If he leaves, the Lakers are left with nothing but a memory of the year that could have been, but wasn’t. They however, do not feel the same way. The trade deadline has come and gone and as Mitch Kupchak stated would be the case, Dwight Howard is still very much a Laker and he will be until July 1st 2013. Beyond that only he knows but now, he can dictate his way around the Lakers organization just as he did Orlando. He can direct to his taste the offense, the defense, the coach, the players. Everything.
After the Lakers claimed Dwight Howard, they placed every bit of faith in the fact that they could convince him to re-sign with the club past this season with money (The Lakers can offer him $118M over 4 years with the option of a 5th as opposed to $84 Million over 4 years that other teams can offer him) and a chance to be the face of the famed Laker franchise. The season however, has not gone to plan so far and has left the organization, fans and even the players asking ‘what is wrong’? Dwight himself has stated that he is unhappy in coach D’Antoni’s system and the way he is being utilized. He doesn’t enjoy playing with Kobe Bryant the way many thought he would because of Bryant’s aggressiveness and determination to win and win now. He has struggled with Steve Nash’s offense and the evolving pick and roll in which Nash is the master and Dwight the apprentice. He hasn’t been dealt the best card by the hoards of media and fans who want answers. Overall, the starts of Dwight’s Lakers career has not been great. But all this didn’t matter before today quite like it does now. Before, he had no choice but to deal with it. Now, if he says he’s unhappy, you had better believe the Lakers will bend over backwards in an attempt to convince him to stay. That friendly wave from Brooklyn, Dallas, Houston or Atlanta could potentially be the catalyst that sees him abandon the Lakers this July and it is on Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss, as well as Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash to ensure that the bright lights of Los Angeles are friendlier.
The foreseeable future of the LA Lakers rests heavily on Dwight Howard’s shoulders and the club have openly admitted they are all in, with Kupchak even saying he expects a statue of Howard to stand outside Staples Center one day. Hold up Mitch, the late Jerry Buss doesn’t have one yet, let’s not give one away to a guy who seemingly isn’t willing to sign with the club after a year of playing with them! The commitment the team is showing to Dwight Howard is unprecedented and should he re-sign at free agency, that commitment and trust will pay off, but if it goes the other way it could potentially be one of the most embarrassing periods in recent memory for the Lakers. Now, going forward it is within the Lakers best interests to cater to Howard, keep him happy and do all they can to ensure he commits to the team and carries them into the next era of Lakers basketball. They must take action against D’Antoni and be willing to admit he was never and will never be the right coach for Howard and attempt to find a coach who is. They must find a way to help this team bond and make him the focus of both offense and the defense. They absolutely must get everything they can out of Dwight Howard and encourage him to re-sign with the team because now, any other option that existed is off the table and the immediate future of Los Angeles lies ever so precariously on the wants, needs, hopes and dreams of the one they call Superman.
Earlier today, the entire Lakers organization past and present gathered to celebrate the life of Jerry Buss, and everything he brought to the City of Los Angeles. Players such a Jerry West, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neil, Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash stood side by side with legendary figures such a Pat Riley, Phil Jackson, David Stern and the Buss family. Many spoke of Dr Buss and his unmatched desire to turn LA purple and gold by always building the Lakers into the powerhouse they are, others spoke of his dedication to all those around him and how he always acted as a father figure to them. What does this have to do with Dwight Howard? You’ll see. Kobe Bryant spoke about trust, and how Buss had convinced him to trust his vision, and stay the course. He spoke of the current Lakers team and, like Jerry before him, asked them to believe in his vision and to trust each other in his memory. “I ask you, our current Laker team, myself included, to look around the room.” Bryant said “Look at the greatness of one man’s vision. Look at all the players, and the coaches that are here. We all have one thing in common and that is that we all believed in Dr Jerry Buss. So look around this room and understand that we are playing for something bigger than ourselves, bigger than a single season.. We are playing for the memory of a great man.” Bryant’s words always echo loudly in Los Angeles, but this was not just a tribute to his friend and mentor, this was a direct order to his teammates, Howard included, to come together, play for each other and learn what it means to a part of one of the world’s greatest franchises this year and beyond, just as Jerry Buss once said to him. This speech, was Kobe Bryant taking charge.
Later today, following the memorial service, in the confines of a quiet media room somewhere in Los Angeles, OC Register reporter Kevin Ding asked Dwight Howard about his role in the offense and if he and Steve Nash can find a balance in both the pick and roll as well as the post game, and how he envisioned things working out for him and the Lakers. Dwight responded differently than he has in all previous interviews.
“There’s still time for improvement. We have years to play with each other, so it’s a learning process.”
Is it a revelation? Could this be the hint that Laker land has been looking for? Who knows. But maybe there’s still time to turn this ship around, maybe Dwight has seen how much it means to play for the Los Angeles Lakers and maybe, just maybe they can come together, be as one and trust each other, just as Jerry would have wanted.