The Lakers, Dwight Howard, and the Chance to Win

Darius Soriano —  July 3, 2013

The meetings are over. Over the span of three days, Dwight Howard and his team of decision makers sat through presentations of five teams — the Rockets, Hawks, Warriors, Mavericks, and Lakers — about why he should accept their offer of large amounts of cash and various other incentives and play for their organizations. Dwight has now retreated to Colorado for a few days to consider his options and make a decision.

There are many variables to consider when making this choice, but reports from early in this process state that Dwight’s biggest concern is winning at the highest level. He’s already been the to Finals once and would like to return several times over and, when he does, claim the trophy that eluded him in 2009. So, while media exposure (both domestic and foreign), money, and many other lifestyle factors will play a part in all this, Dwight’s decision will supposedly come down to basketball reasons.

When zooming in and focusing on what matters between the lines of that 94′ x 50′ hardwood, the consensus seems to be that the Rockets offer Dwight the best chance to accomplish his career goals. These plusses have been discussed multiple times, but the Cliff Notes version is that the Rockets have a young superstar in James Harden, a roster of good (and young) complementary pieces, a smart GM who knows how to fill out a roster, and a head coach who was once a fantastic low post player to help Dwight develop that part of his game further (while, supposedly, running an offense to highlight that part of his game). These things are mostly all true, though some of them have been embellished slightly (more on that later).

The Lakers, meanwhile, are portrayed differently. They’re seen as old and not as talented. They’re seen as a team that can’t offer Dwight the role he wants on offense, and a team that lacks the defensive players to thrive on that side of the floor. The Lakers are billed as the team selling a combination of the past (“we’re the Lakers“) and the future (cap space in just one more year!), rather than the team that can win now. There’s some truth in this but, like the Rockets’ case, these negatives have also been embellished somewhat.

The basketball case for the Lakers is actually very similar to what the Rockets are selling. The Lakers have a strong, top tier, talent base to complement Howard. Kobe Bryant’s recovery is surely a question mark and he’d be defying some odds if he comes back to the exact level he was pre-injury. But if we can acknowledge that Kobe won’t be a disaster on the court when he returns (and I  think that’s fair), he’s still one of the better players at his position across the league. Steve Nash is old, but he’s not an awful player. Last year his on court production mirrored what he’s done for the past several years, with a dip in usage and the amount of time he had the ball showing up mostly in his assist numbers. But he’s still a fine floor general and someone who can positively impact the game — especially on offense — for roughly 25-30 minutes a game (preferably the lower end of that scale).

The rest of the roster is a work in progress, but starts with a very nice piece in Pau Gasol. Of all the players who teamed with Dwight last season in L.A., it was Pau who seemed to forge the best chemistry with his front court partner, looking for him early and often in possessions and setting him up for countless easy scores. The Lakers will look to upgrade the shooting that surrounds the aforementioned “big 4″ while also brining in players who can better defend their positions (as well as respond better within the team scheme). It’s also not out of the question that one of the those players (likely Gasol) could be flipped for more better fitting pieces that increase the depth while also adding real talent.

As for the offensive system, the Rockets’ and Lakers’ systems aren’t that far off from each other. If you look at the sets the Rockets run, they’ve taken a page right out of Mike D’Antoni’s playbook by wanting to play fast while using the spread pick and roll as the key to initiating their offense. If anything, the Rockets would need to catch up to some of the changes the Lakers made as the year progressed in running more HORNS actions to get Dwight the post and paint touches he seemingly wants more of.

What happened to the Lakers last year was unfortunate in that it was Murphy’s Law realized. What could go wrong, mostly did and that impacted not just the on court product, but the perception of it moving forward. This team is flawed, but most teams are. Whether the team can play together well enough to overcome those flaws is the purpose of an NBA campaign. The team that can do this best, while putting together the most talent, usually sprays champagne on each other after their final game of the season.

How far the Lakers are away from that is an open question, but we shouldn’t act like how close the Rockets are to it is one that’s already answered, assuming Dwight were to play on either team.

Getting back to those Rockets, they’ve put themselves into a position where they’ve both elevated their talent base to be competitive in the chase for Dwight, while also building a roster that will undergo changes in order to accommodate his talent. In fact, it’s already started to happen. They’ve already let go of two contributors to last year’s team (Carlos Delfino and Francisco Garcia) who were rotation players and served as key cogs in the Rockets run to the playoffs. Rumor has it that in a search for a third “star” to team with Dwight and Harden, the Rockets would seek to trade Omer Asik and/or Jeremy Lin. That player is rumored to be Josh Smith, but who it is, while important, may matter less in what accomplishing such a move would mean.

If getting that third player cost the Rockets both Lin and Asik, the Rockets would have turned their rotation — the rotation that makes them a favorable landing spot — over by more than half. Four of their top 8 rotation players could be gone and they’d be replaced by only two players: Dwight and Smith. I don’t know if this makes them a better, worse, or if their improvement would be neutral but the fact that it’s even a question is worth exploring more, even when considering those players would ultimately be replaced.

We should not trash what the Rockets would be doing in order to secure Dwight Howard. He’s worth the fuss. But, when taking everything above into account, the basketball reasons to join the Rockets are not so overwhelming that it’s clear cut. They create the prospect of making the Rockets a very good team with a chance to contend at a high level. I’ve argued in the past that a chance is all one can hope for, but you have to wonder if it’s worth leaving one chance for another.

And the Lakers, with Dwight, would have a chance. They’d also have a roster that is ever evolving to fit around him, more spending power moving forward than the Rockets could offer, and a market that has a history of actually drawing in those players. As Ken Berger wrote, a Lakers’ team with Dwight Howard in house and cap space to add talent is a dangerous thing to fathom.

Again, I don’t want to make this too much about the future, but this is a relevant point when discussing what the on-court product will be and how that plays into what Dwight wants out of his career. In Houston he can have a team that, potentially, will be very good. It will be young and will need to grow together, but it can be a contender. But lets not act like the same can’t be true in Los Angeles with the Lakers. They, like the Rockets, will need to make more moves. The Lakers will need to add some talent and, down the line, fulfill their promise of being a the free agent draw that they’re made out to be.

But, like the Rockets, the Lakers will have their chance to contend. Especially with Howard in house. And, like I said before, that’s probably all he can ask for.

Darius Soriano

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27 responses to The Lakers, Dwight Howard, and the Chance to Win

  1. no mention of the coaches and their staff. Does McHale’s team bring a lot to the table? Is McHale that good of a coach? I don’t think he’s better than MDA, or Mike Brown, he’s below both of them. The few games I watched towards the end of the season did How much does Garnett attribute his growth to McHale?

    I don’t really know if the Rockets FO is better suited to putting together a winning team than the lakers FO. Certainly Kupchak knows more about the biz than anyone else, but the turmoil inside the lakers org doesn’t help.

  2. All this talk from the media basically doomin the Lakers if they loose Howard and saying how great the Hou situation is dont know what they talking about. For all that Hou talk if they losr Dwight they will be what they were last season an 8 seed or worse considering that they are dismantling their team. On the other hand if the Lakers loose Howard, their remaining core if healthy and with an improved bench should be no lower than 5th and im selling them short, i imagine this team playing with a huge monkey on its back specially Kobe. With a major reload stated next season, even with Howard the Rockets aint better than OKC Memphis or SA, and lets not talk about the Heat. All im saying is that comparing both teams w/o Howard the Lakers would be in a better position to contend. If Howard leaves he is going to kiss his reputation and any chance to win any chips goodbye.

  3. Darius: Wow – extremely thorough – nice write up. One point perhaps worth making, is that the “consensus” would be that Houston would have a better shot at a 2014 title than we would have. After 14, all bets are off, however if DH bolts to Houston, I think it is safe to say that Vegas would place better odds on them for 14 than they would on the LAL with Dwight for 14. This could change of we get Kobe updates, but as of now we don’t have that. After 14 however I agree that where he has the best chance for rings, is debatable.
    Aaron: Wow for you too. Please keep posting as I agree with most and you make me look like a moderate.

  4. And btw… I say I want Phil Jackson but that’s only because I think it will help bring in LeBron James. But can you imagine LeBron as a Steve Nash on steroids? Cause that’s what he is on offense. He is a bigger stronger better Steve Nash. James would look even better than he does now with a lakers team with real great pkayers around him. Wade isn’t that anymore. And neither is Bosh. The Heat stole MDA’s offense. That’s what they run. MDA knows his offense better than Speolstra.

  5. This is a very good write-up, but my guess is that Howard’s POV is not this analytical. I think he believes that if Houston has him, Smith, Harden, and Parsons, they are ready to rock for the next 3-4 years–and he is buddies/texties with all three of them.

    As far as the Lakers with D12 and cap space, yes, they would be in a pretty good position, but I would again refer people to the SSR write-up in the 2014 free agent class. Paul George and John Wall are restricted, and the chances of the Pacers and the Wizards letting them come here are about the same as the chances of Darius’ wanting to hang out with me and Robert. Deng and Granger will be 30 and have injury issues. James…well, I think that is a pipe dream, but I guess you never know.

    As I have said, the Lakers; best shot to rebuild around Howard in FA would be adding a guy next year who is good but not a max guy, and then hoping Kevin Love wants out of Minnesota. But that is speculative and two years away.

    I think for Howard to decide to stay, he needs to believe that 2014 can be a much better movie than 2013, with more or less the same cast, producer, and director.

  6. “On the other hand if the Lakers loose Howard, their remaining core if healthy and with an improved bench should be no lower than 5th and im selling them short…”
    —–
    Fern, that’s a very optimistic outlook. Without Howard I think the Lakers struggle to make the playoffs next season. Without him in the middle I can see teams hanging 125+ points on the Lakers nearly every night. If Howard leaves I hope your scenario is right. I just can’t see it.

  7. TRogers,

    Good points. After the draft, I speculated about how badly a three-big rotation of Pau, Hill and Ryan Kelly would get torched every night (Clark may leave; Cleveland seems to want him).

  8. When Howard was off the floor last season, our defensive efficiency was 3rd worst in the league. He’s a pain in the rear and only a shadow of the MVP candidate he once was, but let’s not fool ourselves into minimizing his impact last year.

    Considering how childish Howard is, does anyone else see him as a real life version of Alan from the Hangover?

    I’m not surprised the Warriors are making noise in the chase. From my perspective, they’re a far more appealing destination than Dallas. Even if they lose Barnes, the floor spacing would be incredible.

  9. Our defensive efficiency with Howard off the floor was 3rd worst because Hill was injured.

  10. A side note on Howard; has there EVER been a player where fans are so mortally conflicted on the re-signing?

    By that, I mean honest fans know that the Lakers need Howard. There just aren’t that many stars in the league, and the Lakers have **a lot** of rebuilding to do in 2014 and beyond. Plus, in the areas that Howard excels, he can be spectacular.

    By the same token, few of us believe that Howard will ever have a polished game like Shaq, the mental will like Kobe or even the assassin-like mindset of Jordan, Magic, Bird, Kobe, etc.

    Yet, Howard’s picture of himself seems to be fundamentally different, and rather than using that as motivation to prove doubters wrong, and work on evolving his game, it seems to damage him and isolate him.

    Weird.

  11. T. Rogers thats when whatever we can scrounge to round up the roster comes to play, our remaining core healthy is very good, i beleive Kobe will come back carriying an 800 pound silverback gorilla on his back, Gasol healthier than he been for a while and Nash with his minutes managed properly should be of great help, J Hill is going to be healthy too. Im not saying we will hold teams under 90 but our more recent championship teams werent defensive monster either, is a matter of getting stops when it matters, something this team could not do even with Dwight on the middle. Nobody can tell me that a healthy core of Pau, Kobe and Nash is not a playoff team.I might had go a little too optimistic but they should do better than a 7th seed.

  12. Snoopy i bet that if there is any s&t with GS which i really doubt the Lakers would bleed that team dry thus negating most of the spacing they would have.

  13. With reports coming out that Friday would be the earliest that we’ll have an answer from Dwight, it seems as if he’s milking this for all that it’s worth. Or maybe he’s allowing Houston some time to somehow some way acquire his boy J-Smoove. Or maybe, just maybe, taking into account the subject, he’s still indecisive. Who knows? Taking a trip to Colorado (and leaking it to the Media Mouths) to sort everything through just gives his detractors more ammo to keep shooting at him. One thing that I do know is that I’ll be glad when it comes to a conclusion.

    While he comes across as a penis (keeping it clean), his personality shouldn’t be a reason for kats to want to see him in another uniform next season. If personality was the main barometer in being a fan of a player, I know that I, for one, wouldn’t be much of a fan of Kobe Bryant’s. But the fact of the matter is that we, as fans, from the outside looking in, don’t know these players on a personal level, therefore, what they bring to the table on the hardwood floor in regards to assisting a team to victories is what draws me to said individual. That’s why I’m hoping he signs with us; because, without a doubt in my mind, he gives us the best shot at success next year and down the line.

  14. Fern,

    I want to be there with you. I just can’t make the leap. Decent defensive teams usually one of two things: Two wings on the floor with quick feet, great lateral movement, and good instincts for the ball. Or they have a back line manned by a defensive ace they can funnel players to. The Lakers don’t have the former. But with Howard they do have the latter. Howard is probably better in this role than any other big in the league. You can’t just replace his presence with Jordan Hill. The Lakers would have to pick up two excellent wing defenders just to make up for the loss of Howard.

    The West is full of quick off the dribble perimeter players. The Lakers counter this by running a contingent of mid 30’s (and older) perimeter starters. Imagine next season. There’s no Howard on the back line. And every night its either Westbrook, CP3, Curry, Conley, Lillard, Rubio or Parker pushing the ball. And those are just point guards. I haven’t even address the shooting guards and small forwards.

    Howard doesn’t just guard his man. He is charged with stopping the perimeter players that our wings players are now too old to guard. And he did a hell of job at it the last 40 games of the season. I respect that others want him gone. But I’m crossing my fingers he remains with the purple and gold.

  15. manny – great article! didn’t see that one before. Sure will be interesting to see how this plays out.

  16. Is McHale better than MDA?

    Yes….. McHales’s teams have consistently outperformed expectations, unlike MDA’s last two stints in NY and LA, but more importantly, by most acounts, McHale’s players respect him and love playing for him. That cannot be said about MDA.

  17. Boston has hired Brad Stevens, from Butler U, to be their head coach.

  18. Manny P and jerry ross,

    You’re right. The article by Ken Berger of CBS Sports is brilliant–must reading for all NBA fans. He sees right through the issues of this latest installment of Dwightmare. The only question I have is this: will Dwight read it?

  19. TucsonFan: I really do agree with the article. Stick around and play for the chance to become a legend or leave and become nothing more than a good player. It’s a hard choice for a guy with his maturity. Let’s hope he makes the right choice for himself and the Lakers.

  20. T Rodgers this team even w/o Dwight will be a playoff team, once we get D12 in or out of the way them we can made an assesment of what way the team will move, i believe we could get some help on the wings hopefully not too expensive, and improve a little bit on defense. Like i said a million times in the worst case scenario im ok with the team taking some lumps this year bc its all about the massive cap we will have on 2014, but this is still a playoff team and i doubt they will perform worse than last year even w/o Dwight. Webhave issues defensively but i trust the FO will sit on their hands and dont do something about it. And again, nobody in this world can tell me that a team even with an over 30 core of Nash,Kobe and Pau is not a playoff team. Championship? A very long shot but a playoff team definetly.

  21. I meanthe FO WONT sit on its hand, damn phone lol

  22. rr: Just saw your 1:26 PM post. Now that is funny. I also like your comparison to the movies – yes same Producer, same Director, and same cast. The question is did anyone convince him that the “script” would be different.
    LT mitchell: On certain very important topics, I must admire your accuracy and consistency, as next to you I am simply an enlisted man.
    Mark Sigal: “honest fans know that the Lakers need Howard” Yet you also say that the fan base is totally conflicted. So what does that say about 1/2 the fan base? : )

  23. Another interesting article with conclusions similar to those of Ken Berger:

    http://sports.yahoo.com/news/where-dwight-howard-shouldnt-175100853.html

    It’s written by Bryan Chu. He’s a good journalist.

  24. Robert,

    Few people want to root for a nightmare and everyone roots for a winner. The latter trumps the former; but we did not win last year, so we’re left with conflicted emotions.

  25. “Finally, Howard stands at the center of the most terrifying maelstrom that has come along in the NBA in decades. What is that, you ask? It’s called the Lakers with cap space”
    Thanks for the article Manny P, so true.

  26. Tucson fan great article too,both articles are telling exactly what i mean in a more eloquent way lol.