The story that never went away last year is back .. like a zombie. Turns out Dwight Howard to the Nets was not dead, just dormant.
By all accounts, some of which are more alarming than others, things are not going well in Los Angeles.
But whatever the degree of discord or disharmony that exists in the Lakers locker room, there are some fairly simple facts to consider:
- The Lakers are multiple games under .500, in 11th place in the Western Conference and in real danger of missing the playoffs. That was the case before their 112-105 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Sunday night, and they only dug themselves a deeper hole.
- The Lakers are “old as sh-t” as Kobe Bryant pout it a few days back, and they surrendered two future first-round picks in the deal to acquire Steve Nash. Pau Gasol has been benched more than he has been used in fourth quarters since Mike D’Antoni took over, and even Bryant’s highest point production level in six years is not making things better.
- Howard is going to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, and there is a genuine chance the Lakers could lose him with nothing in return (Dallas and Atlanta will have max room) is he decides to bolt in July. If the Lakers have a strong feeling in mid-February that Howard is unhappy and has one foot out the door, they will have no choice but to move him.
Those, folks, are the plain and simple facts.
But then we also have the matters which are open to debate and dispute — such as how much internal discord there is in the Lakers’ locker room. In a report in Monday’s editions of the New York Daily News, Stefan Bondy paints a picture of a team in total disarray. An excerpt:
“A league source told the Daily News that the Lakers stars got into a heated exchange following a New Year’s Day loss to the 76ers, and Bryant went for a low blow – referencing and agreeing with Shaquille O’Neal’s criticisms of Howard being soft. Howard was restrained from going at his teammate, according to the source, and there have been rumblings from the center’s camp that he’s been unhappy with Bryant since earlier in the season. Three days after the altercation, following a disheartening loss to the Clippers, Howard complained about the lack of chemistry on the Lakers. It was a comment seemingly directed at Bryant, who is averaging a league-high 22 shots despite playing with three potential Hall of Famers. “Look at the difference between our team and (the Clippers),” Howard said. “They just play together. They share the ball. Everybody’s excited when something happens. “(Chemistry) is something we have to do to get better,” Howard told reporters in L.A. “We have to play like we like each other. Even if we don’t want to be friends off the court, whatever that may be, when we step in between the lines or we step in the locker room or the gym, we have to respect each other and what we bring to the table.”
No, that does not sound like a happy camper.
Which leads us to the Nets, who have gone 5-1 since P.J. Carlesimo took over and would be content to let him keep the job for the remainder of the season if Phil Jackson tells them he is uninterested or would prefer to wait. Both Jackson and Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov have been flying waaaay under the radar over the past week since it became known that Jackson was the Nets’ one and only choice, but rest assured there is some back-channeling going on.
As columnist Charley Rosen has pointed out, the Nets’ current personnel would be a fit for Jackson’s triangle offense if a power forward could be found who can step out to 17 feet and knock down a jumper. (Kris Humphries does not have that in his repertoire.) But Humphries and Brook Lopez both become trade-eligible on Jan. 15, and the Nets would surely be willing to include either of them in a trade with the Lakers if it would bring back Howard.
Brooklyn would have to provide the Lakers with more than just Lopez or Humphries in a trade of that magnitude — but they actually have three nice young pieces (Mirza Teletovic, Tyshawn Taylor and MarShon Brooks) that would sweeten the pot, give the Lakers a stretch 4 and/or a point guard of the future and bring the total salaries into line.