Another game. Another loss. Who is to blame for such woes?
The Los Angeles Lakers lost to the Chicago Bulls 95-83 on Monday night, continuing the free-fall for the “Purple and Gold.” At 17-24, they currently sit at 12th in the West, four games behind the Houston Rockets for the eighth seed. Not exactly what people expected out of the new-look Lakers.
Who is to blame for the poor start? You could point at the firing of Mike Brown near the beginning of the year. Or possibly Pau Gasol’s terrible play this season (Gasol is down in every major statistical category, including points per game and field goal percentage.) Or, to the vitriol of Laker fans, Kobe Bryant’s recent slump (Bryant is 17-for-54 from the field in the two games on their current road trip.) Kevin Ding, of the Orange County Register, seems to put the blame on one person; Dwight Howard.
Does Howard deserve the blame for their start? Partially. Coming off of back surgery entering the season, there were questions of whether Howard would even being able to play this season. Not only did he come back, he’s only missed three games this season. The issue, that Ding brings up, is the effort and maturity. Said Ding…
“You can acknowledge that he holds the power to act however he wants, because he can leave the Lakers with nothing at season’s end as a free agent. You just can’t let him get away with the sub-par effort, lack of responsibility and ongoing immaturity that has prevented the Lakers from ever truly uniting this season.”
In many ways, this is true. After only making two of five field goals in Monday night’s loss to Chicago, Howard was carrying around a stat sheet around the locker room to show people that he only had five shot attempts. What that shows is that, in the words of Ding, “Howard hasn’t lived up to his end of the deal.” Is that a problem with the offense that Mike D’Antoni is running or the lack of effort by Howard? What we have seen is a dream “Twin Towers” situation between Howard and Gasol that has gone nowhere fast. Gasol is struggling while playing 20 feet off the basket but Howard’s presence should have countered the regression.
Two things are on the table; The Lakers missing the playoffs and Howard not re-signing in Los Angeles. Let’s address the first issue. Over the last five season, the average record for the eighth seed in the Western Conference was 48-34. That is just to get into the playoffs. For the Lakers to accomplish that, they would have to finish the season 31-10. That includes eight games left against the Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder, Memphis Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs. Maybe this team can catch fire and pose a huge issue for whoever they run into in the playoffs. It’s a tall order to complete.
The elephant in the room has now become the free agent status that Howard holds at season’s end. When the season started, it was a no-brainer that the Lakers would do everything in their power to keep Howard. It’s not to say that Howard is horrible. That is far from the case. As written by Zach Lowe on Grantland, Howard “leads the league in rebounding, and has shot 58 percent from the floor.” The issue has come from “using fewer possessions and attempting fewer shots per minute than at any time in the last half decade and his PER has fallen from its customary home in the mid-20s to a relatively ho-hum 20.3.” A player who two seasons ago was widely considered the second-best player in the league, is now having a more pedestrian playing style.
Now there is questions. Answers don’t seem to be coming anytime soon. There needs to be a change soon or the Lakers could be looking at both losing out on the playoffs and Howard.