Oh, the offseason. It’s a strange time for everyone. Whether it’s absurd speculation or random video clips of your favorite player talking about Desperate Housewives (is that still a thing?) on Chris Ferguson’s couch, the basketball withdrawals are frequent and take many different forms. While the season is still technically going, for Laker fans it’s long over. In fact, most people have been looking toward next season since about the third month of the last one, and now everybody else is finally catching up to them.
This offseason, however, is a little different for the Lakers. Although free agency hasn’t started yet, it seems that fans are already bracing themselves for the worst. As if prepping for a hurricane, Laker fans have boarded the doors and windows, refusing to let reality breach their consciousness. In fact, it’s worse than that now. We’ve reached the denial stage for many of Los Angeles’ most loyal followers. Somehow, in the midst of all the disappointment over the last 12 months, we’ve seen the evolution from disheartened to downright denial. Fans have begun to convince themselves that Dwight Howard isn’t the right choice for the Lakers. And that’s simply not correct.
Now, Howard didn’t have his best season in 2012-13. In fact, it could be argued that it was his worst. But that is nowhere near indicative of the kind of player Howard is. And, more importantly, how big of a drop off there is between Howard and whoever the Lakers think they’re going to replace him with.
Let’s play a little game. When the Lakers traded Shaq in 2004, they took a calculated risk. O’Neal was getting older and less productive, and they thought they might be able to match 60-70 percent of his production by using a filler player. Someone like, you know, Chris Mihm. We all remember how well that worked. See, now that’s the problem with the idea that letting Howard go isn’t going to cost the Lakers that much. Even if you believe Howard will never get back to the level he was at when he was going through Defensive Player of the Year awards like they were Pez, he’s so much better than any sort of alternative option out there that it’s foolish to believe the team will be able to plug in replacement parts and hope they can replace Howard’s production.
So, in his worst season, Dwight averaged 17.2 points, 12.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game.
How did the best big men in the league stack up to those numbers? Let’s look.
Brook Lopez: 19.4 PPG, 6.4 RPB, 2.1 BPG
Roy Hibbert: 11.9 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 2.6 APG
Al Jefferson: 17.9 PPG, 9.3 RPB, 1.3 BPG
Al Horford: 17.4 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 1.0 BPG
DeMarcus Cousins: 17.2 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 0.7 BPG
Chris Bosh: 16.6 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 1.4 BPG
Interesting. Suddenly Dwight isn’t looking like such a dismal prospect, is he? And, you also need to remember, these are the league’s ELITE centers. The best in the business. These are guys the Lakers aren’t going to come anywhere near acquiring if they lose out on Dwight. They’ll be more likely to land an average-type center. You know, a Chris Mihm-type. So how about those numbers? What does the statistical breakdown of the median of the center world look like in the NBA in 2013?
League Center Average: 7.1 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 0.9 RPG
I’ll save you the trouble of getting a calculator and let you know that that’s 10.1 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.6 blocks fewer than Howard.
Basically, if you subtract Roy Hibbert from Dwight Howard you have the league average center. That’s how good Dwight’s numbers still were, in a season where he had three coaches, two injuries, and one ball-dominant shooting guard in his way. Yet, in the face of all this evidence, fans seem convinced that moving away from Howard is the way to go. Some say he doesn’t have the mental tenacity to handle life as a Laker. He doesn’t embrace the legacy.
As fans we’re far more romantic about all that stuff than the players. We like to idealize these situations, because to us it would be tremendous if our favorite players were as passionate about our teams as we are. But that’s not the case. In reality, players want financial security, a chance to win and a fun place to live. And, a lot of the time the first two will supersede the third (not that the Lakers have ever had to worry about that since they hit the geographic lottery).
In the end it comes down to an uncertainty about the future that is the root of all these problems. Fans are afraid. The end of the Kobe era is closer than many want to openly admit, and the guy who has to follow a legend is always seen through lenses thick with skepticism until they’re able to prove themselves. Nobody thought anybody would be able to follow Joe Montana. Then Steve Young came along. Nobody thought anybody would be able to follow Joe DiMaggio. Then some guy named Mickey Mantle showed up. Nobody thinks anyone will be able to live up to Kobe Bryant. But Dwight Howard has as good a chance as any.
And let’s not forget, nobody thought the Lakers would be able to survive after losing Baylor, West, Wilt, Kareem, Magic or Shaq either. I’m sure we all remember how that went.