With exit interviews in the bag, and rumors swirling about where Dwight may be headed next, will Pau Gasol be a Laker next season and so on and so forth. Sam offers his final installment in his season-long series, Utterly Fascinating.
The week after the Lakers’ exit from the playoffs has been a busy one for media and the front of office of the Lakers. The period has finally been appended to the end of this nightmarish season, and now Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak can look at where the team performed well, what moves they should make, and seeing how it will all eventually fit together. And it all starts with Dwight Howard.
Working in an office with fans who aren’t just Lakers fans is both refreshing and agonizing at the same time. It’s fun to see how the Lakers are viewed by fans of the Bulls, Heat and Spurs. But one thing I keep hearing from said fans is that Dwight isn’t the guy to lead the franchise. Now first of all, I disagree with that. I just want to get that out there. But to any LA fan out there who wants to make sure the door hits Dwight on the way out, just take a deep breath.
What is the first reason I hear for why he can’t be a franchise player? He quit in the 4th game of the 1st round of the playoffs. Now, first of all, lets get something straight. Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol cannot be expected to just carry the entire team on
Dwight’s bad their backs. I mean, as well as Andrew Goudelock and Darius Morris played in those final games, without Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Steve Blake, and Jodie Meeks for the rest of the season, Goudlocke and Morris can’t be your only role players. Sure they might be able to shoot the ball a bit, but when you’re going into the buzz saw that is either Oklahoma, Memphis, Denver, or that other LA team, I don’t understand how fans and analysts think Dwight and Pau could do it. Even at their best, Popovich just sent players inside the paint to merely frustrate Howard and Gasol and simply dared the Lakers’ streaky shooters to win the game for them. And look, I’m sorry guys, but if you’re depending on Morris, Goudelock, Duhon, and Clark to win, then your essentially depending on a dead horse in the Kentucky Derby. I’ve seen great things from all those players, but to be great in the NBA requires consistency, and those guys have yet to really show it (Clark has been pretty good though).
So we’ve now established that the Lakers’ essentially just couldn’t win going forward in the West, right? (I would love to hear a “fan’s” argument as to why they could beat OKC with that roster.) And if you’re going to sit there and tell me that Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard didn’t realize that when they stepped out onto the floor for Game 4, you’re insane. Now, I’m not trying to say that means that Howard and Gasol should have just given up (they didn’t), but at some point some realism eventually has to take over. And if Howard wants to finally get vocal after he was getting beat up in the paint while practically no one else was saying anything about it the entire series, I don’t mind one bit. Mark Jackson, head coach of the Golden State Warriors, went to bat for Steph Curry and willingly took the 25 grand fine for saying that the Nuggets were playing dirty in their defense on Curry. I never saw D’Antoni take a fine for standing up for his players. I don’t want to rake D’Antoni over the coals for not saying anything, but Dwight Howard has been getting hammered inside all season, and if there was a time to speak out about it, now is that time. I mean, down 20 points midway through the 3rd quarter with no Steve Blake, no Steve Nash, no Metta World Peace, and no Kobe Bryant? There is no way they mount that come back against the Spurs who didn’t want to give the Lakers any chance of coming back and eliminating the Spurs a lot sooner then they were last season.
“But Sam, the Lakers have made great comebacks this year! Remember Charlotte? Remember Brooklyn?”
Yeah, I remember watching Kobe Bryant continue to shock the NBA with his buzzer beaters and ridiculous shots that had almost no business going in the basket. I just think that’s it’s insane expecting this miracle of a playoff appearance from 1 player and then flying off the handle at him for getting pissed off that he can’t even get some positioning down low. Have you played basketball? I want to punch someone in the face every time they body up on me. It’s an emotional game, and sometimes emotions take over. I don’t think he quit at all. I think he finally said “screw this. I’m saying something and I don’t care what happens.” And you know what? I didn’t even find out until the Monday after I said to myself “Oh yeah… the Lakers got eliminated last night.” Maybe I’m not a “true fan”. Maybe I’m just an analyst that wants to see the Lakers win more than the Celtics, who knows. But I will say this much, it doesn’t matter to me one bit that Howard was ejected, and it looks like it didn’t matter to Mitch Kupchak either. Because no matter what, it wasn’t the Lakers season this year. The Basketball Gods frowned on the Lakers.
After listening to the exit interviews from the players, coach, and general manager it’s easy to see that the Lakers want Dwight Howard back. Everyone talks about how they did a lot better down the stretch and a lot of that had to do with the overall team chemistry getting better and Dwight getting healthier. Dwight Howard himself even said his back was in pain all year. In fact, the full recovery time of his back was a year according to Howard. He mentioned that he wanted to do what he could for his fans despite his pain. Dwight Howard has proven through out the entire season that he tried his hardest. When all the criticism was coming from all the greats, he still played. When his shoulder was injured and just about every player down low just smacked at Howard’s arms when he was under the basket with the ball, he still played. And I get that it’s his job to play, but just like your job, you can call out sick. He just happens to live in a city where everyone will criticize him for taking a sick day. He’s getting criticized and scrutinized for even taking time to make a decision about whether or not he wants to play as a Laker going forward. And you know what? I say he can take all the time he needs to make up his mind in free agency. Kobe gets it. Kupchak gets it. A lot of players on the Lakers get it, and they all want Howard back. And while no fan base should ever govern what a team or a player will do going forward, Los Angeles is known for having some of the harshest fans in the NBA; whether or not Dwight uses that as fuel for his fire or the reason to leave is up to him. But enough speculation, we’ll all see what happens when Howard makes up his mind.
It’s crazy to think that I started watching the Lakers when they were going for the repeat of a championship in 2010, and now I’m looking back on one of the worst seasons in the team’s history. It’s funny to think that the Lakers exiting in the first round is “worst season ever” material, but that’s what you get when it’s championship or bust in LA. I for one can’t wait to see what the Lakers will do in the off season. However, this may be the last Utterly Fascinating article for a while, at the most when the NBA starts up again later this year.
Some playoff predictions:
Golden State loses to OKC in five in Western Conference Finals.
Miami defeats OKC in a rematch; it goes to seven.