The hoopla surrounding Dwight Howard has not let up since the Dwightmare of last year seemed to reach its conclusion when he was handed over to the welcoming hands of the Los Angeles Lakers in mid-summer of last year. Expectations grew exponentially, the Lakers future building block had seemed to be set in stone and all was right in Lakerland.
Remember those days? What a difference a few months can make. The Lakers are struggling to get back to .500 basketball, a sentiment I would have laughed at in August. The coaching and front office’s philosophy has been questioned for their decisions or lack of decisions. On top of that, the piece of the puzzle that everyone thought was the missing piece for championship ball and the organization’s future hasn’t concretely showed evidence that he is fully invested, at least on a consistent basis.
Dwight Howard was named to his seventh All-Star game along with his teammate Kobe Bryant, who was selected for the fifteenth consecutive time. This will be the first All-Star start for Howard representing the Western Conference. However, with Howard’s less than impressive performance that he has displayed during the first half of the season, some are questioning if Dwight deserves to be an All-Star in the first place.
My answer? Yes and no. Given the tremendous struggles that the Lakers have played with this season and with a twelfth seed standing in the West, it is quite amazing that the Lakers have not one but two players in the starting lineup. Therefore, the first and biggest reason why Dwight was selected by the fans as a starter is because of the widespread reach that the Lakers name has.
There is no team in the NBA with such a city, state, national and international following than the Lakers. Despite the team’s record or struggles, the fan support for the purple and gold is immense. Hence, earning 922,070 votes from the fans to make sure he is a starter isn’t a shocker. After all, starting spots are not exactly performance based selections.
Yet, the way Dwight has played in a Laker uniform so far has not lived up to ESPN’s ranking him the third best player in the league prior to the start of the season. His numbers are there. Howard is averaging 16.69 points (35th in NBA), 12.03 rebounds (1st in NBA) and 2.49 blocks (5th in NBA) per game on 57.6 percent shooting (5th in league) and a 21.59 efficiency rating (11th in NBA).
A combination of his health not being 100 percent from his back surgery, his shoulder problems (re-aggravated on Wednesday) and the perception that he hasn’t played with full effort, has made some question his selection and has even spurred possible trade rumors. The reality of the situation is that he has not been the dominant player that the NBA came to know from his years in Orlando, the Dwight Howard Lakers fans expected. It hasn’t been close.
After Wednesday’s shootaround, which ran much longer than normal, Howard finally voiced something that the fans have been waiting for for months. Accountability. Howard took responsibility for his inconsistent effort on the court and for airing some immature actions in the locker room (the stat sheet occurrence reported by Kevin Ding).
“I have to do more for this team. There are a lot of responsibilities on my shoulders. I have to step up and take it. It has to be me. It has to start with me. I’m a guy that has to dominate for us to win. We’re not going to win unless I dominate.”
“People look at stats, and sometimes I myself look at and get caught up in stats, but stats don’t determine the game,” said Howard, now in his ninth season. “I can affect the game without even scoring the ball, so I got to get back on that. It’s not about how many points [I score], or whatever. I’ve been immature in the past in thinking that it’s all about shots because that’s what people want to see. They talk about points and how many times you score and all this stuff, but for me, it’s not even about scoring. It’s just about dominating, and that’s bigger than just scoring points.”
However, actions speak louder than words.
While Dwight would have, in all probability, been selected as an All-Star reserve, starting status is typically reserved for the best of the best. However, thats when the fan voting comes into play. It would be very easy to argue that Tim Duncan deserves the spot as the starting center. Duncan is averaging 17.5 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.71 blocks on 50.5 percent shooting in his sixteenth year. The thirty-six year old veteran is a shoe-in for a reserve spot, but many believe he deserved a starting spot, and rightfully so.
To say that this has been a disappointing year from the Lakers thus far is a huge understatement. The problems seem to be from everywhere and with everything. The dark cloud over the team is gaining darkness with every loss. Yes, it is great to have two Lakers in the All-Star lineup, but every fan would gladly trade it for answers that provide results.