In Case You Forgot, the Goal Should Still Be to Keep Dwight Howard

Darius Soriano —  June 22, 2013

Few NBA players have ever suffered the type of hit to their reputation as a player that Dwight Howard has over the past two seasons. Just two years ago he was the consensus top big man in the game and the gulf between him and the number 2 player was larger than any other top player at his position and the man below him.

In the two seasons, since, however, Howard’s brand as a player has taken a major hit. From the poor way he handled his pending free agency in Orlando to his trade “demand” to his back tracking to his season ending injury and then to how he performed on the court this season during his recovery, the luster to Howard’s reputation as an elite player in the league was severely tarnished.

Now that he’s finally hit the point in which he’s an unrestricted free agent, there are real questions about whether or not he’s worthy of the chase teams are sure to put on in order to obtain his services. It’s probably better to take a step back and realize that, yes, Dwight Howard is worth it.

Does he have issues with his game? Of course. Most every player does. But what Howard has shown, even in a season when he clearly wasn’t at his best, is that teams respect his game immensely. Even with an “unpolished” offensive game, Dwight is swarmed in the post and on his dives to the rim out of the pick and roll. Even when he was clearly limited physically, teams were hesitant to all out attack him defensively by targeting him in isolation or in the pick and roll. Even while he played through what was obviously a still hurting back, Dwight put up strong numbers and had a high impact on the game — though, as the year went on this was more true than at the beginning.

This past week, there have been several rumors and rumblings about where Dwight may go. The latest talk was that the Clippers covet him and would, potentially, be open to trying to trade for him. And then there are the long reported landing spots of Houston, Dallas, and, even, Atlanta. However, in an interview just a few days ago, Kobe Bryant had a simple message for the Lakers and Dwight: Just lock him up.

Kobe’s not wrong. There’s no doubt in my mind that if it came to having to deal Howard, the Lakers could work out a way to get a strong package in exchange for trading him. Whether it’s a version of the rumored offer the Clippers would have on the table or some other group of players and picks from a different team, there will be deals presented to the Lakers should it come to that.

But, in reality, it’s probably better that it doesn’t come to that. Because regardless of what you think of Dwight as a person due to how he’s handled his business over the past two seasons, he’s still one of the top talents in the league. It’s easy to forget that when we all spent so much time picking apart his game over the past 18 months, but as the second half of the season showed, the player who was a consensus top 5 (and probably top 3) talent in the league is still worth holding onto.

Darius Soriano

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39 responses to In Case You Forgot, the Goal Should Still Be to Keep Dwight Howard

  1. Thank you Darius for this post. With all the posturing and pulling of hair and ESPN fireworks it still comes down to the reason we traded for Dwight in the first place – so that we could be in the driver’s seat when he hit free-agency. Well, we are in the driver’s seat, but it isn’t a given that he will sign with us. Welcome to NBA unrestricted free-agency. The last CBA actually gives us a better chance of resigning him, so it is about time we concentrated on the true objective and stopped all the rest of this “what iffing” around.

  2. Yes – the goal is clear. I apologize, because if anyone forgot – I must not be posting enough : ) The issue is not the goal, the issue is how to achieve it. Obviously, I do not know what is going on behind the scenes, however I do know that the Clippers fired their coach, and tried to trade for Doc Rivers, all in the name of keeping Paul. CP is evidently not happy that they did not get that done, so he will need to be happy with the Shaw/Scott/Hollins consolation. Meanwhile our superstar has indicated unhappiness with our coach (much like Paul did) and we are not taking any (visible) action. Can anyone explain why? And please – I know Jim has supposedly made up his mind, MD is under contract, it wasn’t all his fault, and D12 is difficult to read. None of those are valid reasons to keep Vinny Del Negro – I mean Mike D’Antoni. Also, I get it, if you don’t want DH and so your response will include – “if DH can’t get on board with MD, then you don’t want DH”. Also – I know we can offer the most money, but is that going to be enough, so why not do more? I would like to hear from someone (perhaps my GM) who really wants DH, and thinks that keeping MD is the “best” way to do that. And then state why – not including anything mentioned above : )

  3. Dude led the league in rebounding last year.

    Yes, its a no brainer the Lakers want to keep DH. Fortunately, the folks who doubt its worthwhile holding onto the man have no vote in the matter.

  4. Robert,
    Star players have an impact on an organization’s decisions. That being said, the ones that frequently change, or change to match players or fans current feelings are generally not the ones competing for the championship – take this year for example. The organization must establish a mindset and then operate within that – regardless what players or fans might think.

    Now I realize you feel the Lakers don’t have a mindset. However, IMO, they may very well have one; it’s just that you don’t agree with it. From my point-of-view the Lakers have to change and changing back to the triangle is most likely not a long-term solution. So they have opted to point toward a more uptempo way of playing – fitting with the players coming into the league and the rules. With their current roster they had to make a number of compromises this last year and – but for the injuries – I think they were mostly successful.

    Next year they are going to have to make more changes and I suspect they will be in the direction they want to go. They won’t be there – and will have to make compromises next year – but I suspect they will be somewhat more uptempo than they were last year. For this transition Mike D’Antoni is the correct coach and I think they are wise to emphasize their ‘intention’ of keeping him.

    Sure Dwight could impact this decision if he really wanted to, but I also suspect that an organization that has rules will be one he would rather be in than one that alters everything just for him – or any other big name player who comes in. Dwight has been around long enough to see how that seems to work out for the ‘at the margins’ teams.

  5. Craig W: Thanks for the response. You are correct that I disagreed with MD system last year, and I also do not think it ideal given our likely 2013-14 roster. That said – clearly – without regard to the system, we are better off with DH than without. Doesn’t this come down to how bad you want DH? There are very few coaches I wouldn’t jettison under these type of circumstances. I think the coaches I would keep in spite of what DH said, would be one guy whose initials are PJ, and I don’t think we would have any issue if he were the incumbent coach. Quick question. If you were Mitch/Jim, and it came from DH’s agent that MD was not going to cut it, then what do you do? Keep MD and let DH walk, or do you then cut ties with MD? Next question, what if DH (or his agent) makes no demands, but your best intel says that DH does not want MD. Then what do you do? (and that is where I think we are)

  6. Darius is right, of course–common sense dictates keeping Howard, and it will be a huge blow to the org if he walks.

    As to the coaching thing, again: the NBA was, is, and always will be a stars’ league, as this year’s Finals showed us yet again. In the Lakers’ own history, Magic Johnson more or less ran Paul Westhead out of LA.The successful coaches are those who are able to work with their stars–like Duncan and Popovich in San Antonio. There is little reason, other than just vague stuff about authority and organizational culture, to think that keeping D’Antoni, if it means losing Howard, is a good idea.

  7. Robert,
    Notice that I said Howard could impact the Laker decison and that it was their “intention” to keep D’Antoni. That is a far cry from saying that D’Antoni is totally safe as the Laker coach. However, I also said that, IMO, Howard is unlikely to make the demand that the Lakers change coaches and I also said he would probably respect the organization more if they described their goals and guidelines, than if they simply asked him what he would like to have — a-la the way the Clippers have seemingly handled their situation (granted I don’t know what goes on inside that organization either).

  8. 99.9%
    inside information!

    B. Scott will sign a 3 year deal within the next 48 hours to coach the Clippers. Impeccable source. Need to close by Tuesday to have in place for Thursday draft.

    Doc R. deal was created by Danny A and was not a real deal.

  9. TempleofJamesWorthy June 22, 2013 at 5:38 pm

    No, the goal is not to keep Dwight Howard. The goal is make the Lakers a championship contender under the restrictions of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

    If keeping Dwight Howard is the best way to achieve that, then they should re-sign DH12.

    But if sign-and-trading Dwight Howard will bring more assets that provide more overall value, then the Lakers should do that.

    If the Lakers know that LeBron wants to come to LA in 2014, then they let Howard walk and bank the salary cap space (Note: I don’t believe this is true).

    And if part of the price of keeping Howard is that the Lakers have to hire a coach who will center the Lakers’ offense around Howard’s inefficient post-up game and abysmal FT shooting….

    http://www.thedreamshake.com/2013/6/11/4414432/dwight-howard-houston-rockets-free-agency-scouting-report

    …then maybe the Lakers are better off moving in another direction.

  10. Blow it all up now and take the short term misery over the long-term disappointment. Let DH walk, jockey for ping pong balls in 2014, and be a player in free agency next summer.

  11. The goal is to win a championship and the question is whether signing Howard is the most productive way to go about it.

  12. Warren Wee Lim June 22, 2013 at 8:02 pm

    Signing Dwight Howard is top priority. For all that he is and he’s not, he is your best bet at your next championship. You can dream of Andrew Wiggins all you want, tank the hardest and lose money and season ticket holders but Dwight remains a proven commodity and sought after one.

    For someone thats conscious of the CBA as a means to build the next championship team, I also have a backup plan “in case” Dwight does leave and thats Atlanta. In case he leaves and its not Atlanta (so its gotta be Houston) then I do have something for that as well. Being prepared doesn’t mean I want him to go. As an organization, I believe we have made the right moves so far by staying on course and holding ground. Flailing can only lead to doubt. We’re dealing from a position of strength wherein if he leaves, we’ll be able to say “ok, we’ll be fine” but we won’t be desperate or be forced to do anything outrageous.

    Keep Dwight, build around him and make the pieces around him as fitting as possible.

  13. I also said he would probably respect the organization more if they described their goals and guidelines, than if they simply asked him what he would like to have

    Perhaps. On the other hand, he has been around the Buss/Kupchak/MDA Lakers for one unsuccessful year and did not seem very happy.

  14. Good post, Warren.

  15. rr,
    You don’t like the current organization, but that doesn’t mean you know what Dwight is thinking, any more than Warren or I do. If you look at history, you see that Dwight is ambivalent and all over the place as a matter of personality. Therefore, it is reasonable to give less weight to his being ambivalent and all over the place during this time of decision. It does not follow that he is any more likely to either leave or to stay.

    The best we can all do is ask him to stay and then simply wait. Of course, we – like Warren – will all be making plans for what to do if he leaves, but that is another subject entirely.

  16. I agree that it will be a major loss if the Lakers do not sign Howard. Once/If they do, then the next priority should be to find a point guard who can attack the basket and play defense against opposing point guards. Three point shooting and being tall should not be priorities. As for Howard, he can learn to be a better passer and free throw shooter. Those were both weaknesses in Duncan’s game when he started and you would not know it watching him play now.

    My question after game 7 is: was it better to flame out early like the Lakers or to get to the finals only to lose the last two very winnable games? How much damage did Popovich do to his reputation as an in game strategist?

  17. You don’t like the current organization, but that doesn’t mean you know what Dwight is thinking, any more than Warren or I do

    Didn’t say I did. But other than the picture of him holding Kobe’s wife’s dog, I haven’t seen many indicators that Howard likes being on this team, or playing in this system for this coach. If you have, I would like to know what they are.

    And, leaving that aside, as people have pointed out, the Rockets are a great fit for him in many ways, while the Clippers have Paul and a better team than the Lakers do, and with them, Howard could stay in LA. The main thing they have that the Lakers don’t is an elite perimeter player in Howard’s age group. Howard will be 28 in December, and next year will be his 10th year in the NBA. He is past the stage of his career such that he can wait. The Clippers and Rockets can make a better case for immediate/near-term contention with Howard than the Lakers can.

    As far as the org, I am not as down on Buss/Kupchak/D’Antoni as Robert and some other people are, but there are obvious reasons to be concerned.

  18. Dwight, fans and anyone who watches basketball knows Lakers core potential isn’t championship level. Houston’s situation is much better. Lakers should make themselves more enticing by making a draft day trade. Ilyasova shot 44% from 3 last year and would be a better player without 2 chucking guards playing alongside him. If the goal is in fact to keep him, putting better players on the roster is a start.

  19. I have no idea why it became so fashionable to Dwight bash. Excellent article Darius. If Dwight leaves, then we’ll deal with that as it comes. But for now let’s not do anything to help usher him out the door. Make no mistake, it will be a blow to the Lakers if he decides to go elsewhere. It might be better to realize that now instead of later.

  20. Warren Wee Lim June 22, 2013 at 10:43 pm

    Kevin, the names of Ersan Ilyasova and Ryan Andersen have both been widely speculated as the best fits beside Dwight Howard. A “stretch four” by many standards, you give up a bit of rebounding and interior D in favor of better spacing and more PNR action for Dwight. This is sound theoretical need but the question begs: How? Would Bargnani be an option if it came down to it?

    I view both guys to be extremely valuable in today’s game. Bargnani, a tad lesser. If it was indeed the case why didn’t we initiate that deal last season? Maybe because we were uncertain he stayed and we didn’t want that commitment or because we didn’t want to go that path at all.

    Securing Dwight is the 1st domino and its a huge one. While I believe Pau’s fate “shouldn’t” be tied up to Dwight, there is an ongoing concern of the “possibility” that he would leave and management feels a certain degree of ease knowing Pau is there as a fallback option.

    Mitch Kupchak as GM operates silently. He has pulled off the biggest deals in the NBA today, Cp3 and Dwight, both if it had not been for the veto. Even the Nash signing, as faulty as some would view it, was huge. You can’t as easily eradicate “hate” from a cheap owner like Robert Sarver and just make him stomach the trade of his best player onto his worst rival. But somehow we did.

    At the end of the day, its what Kobe said. You have to “trust” that this organization has been able to, and continue to do so, pull off the big guns and retool just in time. Maybe injuries just came at the most imperfect time but the deals for Nash and Howard were to me near impossible considering the assets we or we didn’t have to give up.

    Now its time to consider the future. Dwight can see it any way he likes and if he is enticed by the lure of Houston or playing beside CP3 thats his call.

  21. Simply Put: I haven’t forgotten.

    Nothing else really matters this off season in comparison to signing Dwight. Nothing at all.

  22. Craig: ” “intention” to keep D’Antoni” I understand. What you are saying is that the Lakers “could’ change their strategy if DH makes demands. You and I agree that he probably won’t. So, as rr points out, DH does not seem happy. We can’t read his mind, but we have to make choices. Like it or not – the superstar rules the NBA. Magic vs Westhead, Shaq vs. SVG, Carmelo vs D’Antoni. History is filled with them. And please note that all of those teams got better. I will be fine as long as we retain DH (well sort of). I am just trying to avoid my nightmare – No DH, and MD remains.
    rr: You have actually been harder on Mitch. I have been more focussed on the other 2 members of the “triangle”. Perhaps that is because he has your job : )

  23. Dwight is an amazing athlete with worrisome health issues. I think he can be an amazing player for the next 2 or 3 years. For the Lakers if they just hold onto him by the time we have everything moving together smoothly Dwight already could be on the decline. As such in the following order I would rate the possible out comes and that infers what I think management should do.

    1. Trade Dwight for younger great assets.
    2. Sign Dwight and rebuild around him next year
    3. Let Dwight walk, complete team rebuild in 2014.
    4. Trade Dwight for terrible assets clogging salary space.

    Theses are the outcomes and management does not have full control over what Dwight does. The only situation I absolutely do not want to see happen is trading Dwight for terrible players.

  24. Ken – your take on the Clips going with the 00.01% chance and signing Doc?

    Does this put the KG thing back in motion down the hall? Does this flow on to DH? Mitch is going to be busy no doubt. As someone said above, he operates quietly…

  25. Woj is tweeting that Doc to Clippers is almost done deal and that Paul guarantees that he will stay if Rivers signs.

  26. ESPN now saying deal is done, pending NBA approval.

  27. AusPhil:

    One source with knowledge of the NBA’s thinking told ESPN.com that the league does not intend to change its stance as expressed by Stern in multiple radio interviews Thursday, meaning that the league would view any subsequent trade agreement between the Celtics and Clippers involving Garnett to be part of the Rivers deal and thus in violation of league rules.

    http://espn.go.com/nba/story/_/id/9415256/los-angeles-clippers-verge-landing-doc-rivers-sources-say

  28. Ausphil

    Not over until you see Andy Rosser calling for a press conference. This is the 6th supposed done deal. Dealing with Ainge and Sterling here. Do you trust them more then me? Ok maybe wrong question.

    1% is a lot if its a increase in your home loan so let’s wait until tomorrow.

  29. From last few weeks, i heard stories about Lakers, Phil said:” Lakers should play inside game with Howard”, i was confused, Lakers got 2 big guys inside Gasol and Bynum but still got swept by Dallas in the second round. Magic said:” MDA got to improve defense”, it is right but with who? 33 ,35 years old players? D’Antoni’s offense only can run better with good shooters, same thing to San Antonio, Miami, i mean you got build a team first then blaming the coach second. In my opinion, with or without Howard Lakers will be a good team if Lakers FO knowing what they are doing, that’s the key. I believe Doc Rivers will come to LA, Clippers owner got no choice.

  30. Rivers: So once again this shows the value of coaches in the NBA, and the value of said coaches with rings. From the ESPN article:
    “Sources close to the process told ESPN that the Clippers believe the deal with Rivers will clinch Chris Paul’s signature on a new five-year max contract.”
    The Clips took control of the situation. We have not and that is our option. We have control. What are we going to do with it? If Dwight walks we will know what rock bottom feels like.

  31. How do the Lakers keep Dwight Howard though? By saying we know you have a hard time with coach D’Antoni, we see Person, Clifford and Ham have left the team, we know our roster is a non contender but wait one more year and we’ll get who you want to play with? By pitching past legacy and an extra year to play here. I know the team has a plan and doesn’t want to make a desperate move and the draft is ahead so moves can possibly still be made. But the pitch is weak right now. Maybe Dwight wants to stay but is waiting to see what the Lakers do. But they’re sitting on their hands I guess trying to call Dwight’s bluff by daring him to leave an extra year on the table. An extra year that LeBron is going to forfeit next year. Lakers always strike gold on trades but absolutely suck in free agency.

  32. Some sources reporting that Clippers and Celtics have agreed not to make an additional trade involving players, once Rivers deal goes through.

  33. Kevin,

    FWIW, SSR ran a poll about it, and 3 of the 4 mods said that they thought Howard would leave, and 58% of the people voting said the same thing. If the reports are accurate, Rivers going to LAC

    a) Locks Paul in to the Clippers
    b) Means that Garnett isn’t going to the Clippers

    We shall see how that affects Howard and the Lakers, and I am betting that it does in some way. I think the first piece on the chessboard may have moved today.

  34. Phase #2 of the ‘CP3 L.A. Takeover’ is now complete.
    KG & P-Square can’t be far behind.

    Looking more and more as if ‘The Spaniard’ will be our starting center come opening night. Which, for myself, with all due respect to Pau, would be a catastrophe.

  35. Playing for the Lakers should be a dream come true for Dwight. However, I do not believe he wants to endure the spotlight and pressure of being the man on a team in transition. The odds of the Lakers competing next year are small – and that’s with everything breaking their way. The reality is that next season will likely play out like this one.

    Don’t get me wrong I would love to have Dwight back next year. However, he has been the focal point on teams that have underperformed for each of the past four years. I get the impression he wants no part of the pain associated with the rebuild needed to make the Lakers great again. If he can’t force a trade to the Clippers I think he walks to the Rockets.

  36. Robert – The truth is that no one knows if D’Antoni is a “walk away
    point for Dwight. All we have are so called statements made by “people close to Dwight” to Steven A Smith and maybe one other reporter. Most other sites, just quote “sources” – which means they are quoting Steven A as a source. Not very journalistic in my opinion, but what do you expect from the morons that never checked on Manti Teo’s story.

    Bottom line, until Dwight goes on the record and says “I do not want to play for D’Antoni under any circumstance” we simply do not know how much of a problem it would be for Dwight to play for Mike D. I’m with Craig that if Dwight told the Lakers that he will not resign unless Mike D is gone, then I think Mike D is gone. The fact that it has not happened does not mean one thing one way or the other.

    I think we will know once Dwight gets to go on his free agent tour with several teams. By then, he will know his options and I hope he is more direct with the Lakers. But until then, there is nothing we can do but wait and see.

    rr- I think that IF the league approves this coaching change, you are right on Garnett staying put. I also think that this move means that no player released by the Celtics will suit up for the Clips for the same reasons you provide.

    I personally think this Doc Rivers deal will not receive league approval. My understanding is that a 1st round pick has a monetary value of about $5m. On top of that, the Celtics owe Doc $21m over the next three years. Through this deal, the Celtics walk away from a $21m commitment AND get $5m windfall – in other words, they get a $26m benefit. Does this sound fair to anyone? The only way I can see the league approving this is in one of two scenarios: (1) Doc and the Celts agree to walk away from the rest of his deal for a small payout to Doc AND the Celts agree that he can coach for anyone in the NBA (not just the Clips); or (2) the Celtics agree to pay Doc $10m to $15m to release him from his contract AND maybe they get a second round pick from the Clips. Thoughts?

  37. Manny,

    Your argument is a reasonable one, but I suspect that what happened is that Stern told BOS and LAC they could either trade KG for Jordan/picks et al or trade a pick for Rivers–but not both, since league rules apparently prohibit trading players for coaches. So, since Rivers wants out, and apparently Paul wants to play for him, Boston decided to move Rivers for the pick, the Clippers decided to do it to please Paul, and Boston will hold on to Garnett for now.

    As to Howard, attaching the usual caveat about how we don’t know what he is thinking, I would guess that if he likes living in Los Angeles, the Clippers are his first choice now, and I would be willing to bet that Paul and Howard have texted etc about the Rivers thing.

    Speculating beyond that would be in violation of site policy, but you can put the pieces together as easily as I can. And, of course, I may be wrong.

  38. rr – You make a great point about the impact of Doc Rivers on DH that I had not considered… I need to think about this a bit more.