If they don’t, the effect on the franchise is going to be profound. It would be folly to predict what Howard might do at the end of the season because he has an internal 24-second clock when it comes to changing his mind.
But is it possible for the Lakers – one of the two great franchises in NBA history – to lose him for nothing? Howard has that rivalry with Shaquille O’Neal, who has never missed an opportunity to point out that Howard has spent a career imitating him. O’Neal was Superman first, played at Orlando first and went to the Lakers first. Howard did all three after Shaq.
The Lakers gambled that Howard would sign a long-term contract with them and maybe he will. But it would hardly be surprising if Howard simply decided to do something weird – is that redundant? – and signed somewhere else. Maybe Dallas or Atlanta?
That would be an uncommon blow to the Lakers.
There has been some speculation that since the chemistry isn’t that great – was Dwight actually on target for a change? – the Lakers might be willing to trade Howard to, say, Brooklyn before the trade deadline.
That would be very unLakerlike. When you’ve won 16 championships and you have talent that should compete for a title, you think of now.
Despite their problems, it’s difficult to imagine the Lakers not making the playoffs. And if something, well, magical happens, they certainly would be threats to win a title. It feels a little stupid writing that with their current problems. But, still, there is no denying their talent.
If you consider the history of the two LA franchises, here’s what makes perfect sense. The Clippers are having their greatest season and let’s say it continues and they get the No. 1 seed.
Now let’s say the Lakers get the No. 8 seed.
(An aside here: Will those of you who suggest LA could ever be a Clippers town get a grip? The Clippers have their small group of fans. But many of those people cheering the Clippers are nothng more than Lakers haters. There are two types of Lakers followers in LA – the majority who love the Lakers and a much smaller group that hates them. When the Clippers play the Lakers, some of those cheers for the Clippers at sports bars are pro-Clippers. The rest are anti-Lakers. Listen to an hour of talk radio right now in LA and one minute will be devoted to discussing what’s right with the Clippers, with the other 59 about what’s wrong with the Lakers.)
The Lakers should be among the most feared NBA teams, but right now they are the most confused. Because they are the Lakers, however, they are fascinating to watch. Melodramas always are.
Jan Hubbard has written about basketball since 1976 and worked in the NBA league office for eight years between media stints. Follow him on Twitter at @whyhub.