Joakim Noah #13 of the Chicago Bulls gets tangled up with Dwight Howard #12 of the Los Angeles Lakers at the United Center on January 21, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls defeated the Lakers 95-83.
The Lakers have been bowing down to accommodate Dwight Howard for half a season. It has not worked.
Howard still appears to have one foot out the door, and the Lakers appear headed for the NBA draft lottery. Incidentally, that lottery pick would go to Phoenix courtesy of Steve Nash, so there is no real upside to giving up on this season.
Nash has been about as good as most expected. Even with the recent shooting slump, Kobe Bryant has played better than most people thought he would entering the 17th season of his career. Howard, though, has disappointed at nearly every turn.
Howard may have been dubiously tossed out of the game against Toronto, but he had only managed five points, one assists, and two rebounds by halftime. In his absence, Pau Gasol put together an 18-point second half to remind the world that he can score at the center position.
Defensively, Howard deserves credit for what he accomplished in the past. With the Lakers, however, Howard has been as blame-worthy as everyone else in a Lakers jersey. Considering defense is his specialty, perhaps, Howard should earn more direct criticism for the way he has captained the fifth-worst defense in the league (based on opponents’ points).
On the court and off it, Howard has pointed the finger at all his teammates, but anyone with two eyes can see that Howard is a far shout from the high-flying act that appeared in the Slam Dunk contest from 2007-2009 and won the contest in 2008.
Gasol has even been forced to the bench to allow Howard to have more space on the offensive end. Instead of rewarding his coach and his team for the added responsibility, Howard responded with 30 foul-plagued minutes that yielded eight points and nine rebounds against Chicago. Gasol out-matched or bettered Howard in every relevant statistical category except for minutes and turnovers.
The player being sacrificed for Howard led the Lakers to three consecutive finals and played center down the stretch to the tune of two championships. When given the space, he is still an offensively gifted center who can score, pass, and anchor an offense.
Defensively, Gasol is no Dwight Howard, but then again, Dwight Howard is no Dwight Howard either.
For all his shortcomings, Gasol’s attitude this season is exemplary considering his long list of accomplishments. He may make the occasional remark expressing his dissatisfaction with what is going on, but his effort and commitment on the floor has never been in doubt.
When asked to shoot 3-pointers, Gasol worked on the shot in practice. After being asked to come off the bench, Gasol produced against Chicago. When trade talks come about, Gasol’s name is routinely mentioned.
Gasol has missed a total of 13 games through injury this season. The Lakers have five wins and eight losses without Gasol, which yields a lower winning percentage to when Gasol is in the lineup. The only Gasol-less win against a winning team came against the Milwaukee Bucks at Staples Center.
The Lakers have been accommodating Howard for nearly half a season, and the next conceivable accommodation appears to involve trading Gasol away to keep Howard. Even with that move, there would be no guarantee Howard would stay in LA at season’s end.
If anyone gets traded, it should be Howard.
Trading Howard away to keep Gasol may be the more honorable and beneficial move for the Lakers. After all, Gasol actually has post moves, effectively runs the pick and roll, and has constantly sacrificed himself for the team. Also, he has won two titles with the Lakers.