Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Ugly Lakers' Power Struggle--Howard vs. D'Antoni

Where will center Dwight Howard be next season--with the Los Angeles Lakers or with another team? It's not clear, but one thing  you can be sure of--Mike D'Antoni won't be coaching him.

Howard is currently playing for D'Antoni and hates every minute of it. The coach knows it and so do the other Lakers..Normally one of the top two or three defenders in the league, Howard is drastically under-performing. So are the Lakers, now a miserable 17-23, even though they're stocked with All-stars like Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash.

The problem is D'Antoni's offense-first system, which devalues defense in general and, most glaringly, what Howard does best--play defense under the basket. Howard can't stomach the system. Neither can the other players. They've been mostly tactful and hiding their feelings. Lately, though, Howard, thoroughly frustrated and fed up, hasn't been hiding his. Sources close to some players say Howard is so miserable, feeling shackled by that system and misused, that he either wants to be traded or wants D'Antoni fired. Howard's media pals have even been putting out the word that he's unhappy.

Trade rumors are flying, with the most interesting, a three-way deal, sending Howard to Brooklyn, Brook Lopez to Minneapolis and Kevin Love to the Lakers. A trade, if the deal is right, is certainly possible. Howard's other preferred destination is Dallas. Anywhere, he's been telling his buddies, as long as there's no D'Antoni.

Is Lakers' management getting the word? It's not clear. GM Mitch Kupchak yesterday gave D'Antoni a vote of confidence.You never can tell about one of those. It could also be the kiss of death.

The Lakers could solve the problem by admitting the obvious, that hiring D'Antoni was a big mistake. His racehorse offensive style is totally wrong for the Lakers' slow, aging personnel. His major adjustment, putting seven-foot Gasol with the second unit, is bone-headed, ruining one of the team's strengths, having two seven-footers in the starting lineup. He's apparently so in love with his system he's not likely to alter it significantly.

The coach had better do something. If Howard isn't traded, D'Antoni is almost certainly finished. Howard is under contract only until the end of the season. He can sign a multiple-year contract or walk away. If D'Antoni is still the coach, Howard walks and the Lakers are left empty-handed. The team would never let that happen.

Do you know who's looking at this situation and smiling? A certain coach, with fingers full of championship rings. You know, that guy the Lakers could have--and should have--hired instead of D'Antoni.