If you think the Dwight Howard experiment is going well in Los Angeles, then you must have liked McLean Stevenson leaving “M*A*S*H” for “Hello Larry,” or “Saved By The Bell: The College Years,” because his Lakers tenure is turning into a nightmarish spinoff that has seemed doomed from the start.
Howard is making little impact defensively, he isn’t aggressive offensively, and there’s that little thing called free throw shooting, which has been a disaster. Howard in Los Angeles has been a poorer fit than that ridiculous headband he has decided to don, an example of his failed attempt to fit into the team’s culture.
Howard will be a free agent at season’s end (again), and now it appears that he may be back on the market. It’s becoming evident that he may not be suited for the bright lights of a large market, but there is a place for him.
In Orlando, the Magic are the only professional game in town, and he felt trapped. But as players such as Courtney Lee, Jeff Green, and Ramon Sessions are finding out, there is a heavy responsibility playing for a team that expects to win every night and for a fan base that nearly demands it. There is added pressure being a Laker or a Celtic, and unless there is a dramatic change, Howard doesn’t appear capable of flourishing in this situation.
“Y’all gotta realize, we just got together, it’s not going to happen overnight,” said Howard. “We’re going to continue to get better. We can’t panic. Despite all the commotion around us, we have to stay at peace and understand what we have to do. We can’t get into what everybody else is saying about us.
“We understand that everybody wants us to blow teams out and win by 150 points and win every game. It just doesn’t happen that way. People have to understand that. We can’t let anything separate us.”
After a couple of defensive breakdowns against the Hornets Wednesday, Howard shot stares at teammate Kobe Bryant for not picking up Howard’s man on a switch. Meanwhile, opposing teams have begun to employ a “Hack-a-Howard” strategy, putting pressure on Howard to hit free throws down the stretch.
If the Lakers reach at least the Western Conference finals, they may take a chance and offer Howard a long-term extension, but it’s definitely not a cinch.
Here is a list of locales that may be better fits for the mercurial center:
1. Atlanta: The city is not exactly an NBA hotbed, but the Hawks are on the rise, and if Howard showed a desire to head home (he is an Atlanta native), perhaps general manager Danny Ferry would work a deal to get him there. Atlanta could be perfect because it is not a large market but large enough for Howard to make an impact and draw attention. Just like Orlando. Hmm.
2. Dallas: The Mavericks desired his services the past few years, but when they didn’t attract Deron Williams last summer, they didn’t have the pieces to get him from the Magic. The Mavericks have pieced together a club to be competitive this season, but they are in store for major changes to get help for Dirk Nowitzki.
3. Charlotte: If Michael Jordan wants to make a splash, he’ll clear out his salary-cap space to sign Howard. A team that has never had a franchise-caliber player would have one, and he would blend in well with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Kemba Walker. And Howard would not be exposed to the spotlight of a major NBA city.
4. Houston: General manager Daryl Morey traded nearly every veteran on his roster to acquire young chips to acquire Howard, but Howard apparently never took Houston seriously as a landing spot. With Jeremy Lin and James Harden now on board, maybe it’s time to head south and play for another franchise that’s in a growing phase.
5. Phoenix: These two need each other. The Suns are headed nowhere in their current state and could use a franchise center. Howard needs a place where he’ll be revered and can play without heavy scrutiny. Phoenix is the place, and it has enough younger players and potential to attract Howard to the desert.
WOLVES STILL WAITING
Slow progress for Williams
On the night after he drained three 3-pointers to help Minnesota to an impressive 105-88 win over the 76ers, 2011 No. 2 overall pick Derrick Williams scored just 2 points in 10 minutes in a loss to the Celtics.
Williams’s first two seasons have been filled with these type of inconsistencies, constant ups and downs from a player expected to team with Kevin Love and lead Minnesota to post-Kevin Garnett prosperity.
Williams has helped the cause, but not as a primary contributor. He is averaging 9 points and 5.2 rebounds in 14 games, playing about 20 minutes. While Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker are taking major steps toward being mainstays, Williams remains an enigma. He has the size and skill to play two positions but has yet to flourish in either.
It’s still a learning process, but the Timberwolves are exhibiting patience.
“Well, we’re just trying to get him to come along,” said coach Rick Adelman. “He’s got to be consistent, night in and night out. He shot the ball well [against Philadelphia] but he’s got to be consistent at both ends of the court, and he’s only 21 years old and sometimes it takes a little bit of time.
“He’s playing behind a guy [Love] who had a heck of a year last year. So I think it’s just patience and keep working with him and he’s got to keep working hard.”
Williams remains optimistic despite his lack of gaudy numbers. He is making strides, but the adjustment to the NBA isn’t easy, especially for an undersized power forward or a small forward who has the girth but not perhaps the quickness to keep up with his contemporaries.
“I am finally starting to knock down some shots,” he said. “Confidence is everything in this league. It’s starting to come along. I’ve learned early that you can’t really rely on making shots in this league. You’ve got to do other things, and that’s what Coach is liking from all of us so far.”
The question for Williams is whether he can settle at one position. Love is cemented at power forward, and Adelman has been opting for Andrei Kirilenko at small forward. Williams has to earn his minutes by using his size and speed to create mismatches and also use those same assets to defend.
“Everybody wants to see everybody be great, but at the same time, people have different situations,” said Williams. “I think the good thing about my situation is I wasn’t put on a bad team. We have a good team, especially this year. I don’t really look into the expectations.”
The main assignment for Williams is capitalizing on mismatches and becoming more of a steady threat.
“It’s challenging, but at the same time, every player wants to be challenged,” he said. “That’s the reason I left college is to have a challenge every single night.Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.