Lakers center Dwight Howard enters the 2012-13 season with a lot of pressure. (Illustration by Robert…)
This is the first post in a series focusing on five things each Lakers player must do to have a successful 2012-13 season.
1. Howard needs to have a healthy back. At his introductory press conference, Howard provided no assurances that he could play in the Lakers' season opener Oct. 30 against the Dallas Mavericks. In fact, Howard admitted he doesn't have a timetable for his return at all. It's possible that such rehab would keep him out for the first month of the season. Though that may provide cold water toward all the excitement surrounding his arrival, the Lakers aren't concerned since his strong health history suggests he'll be fine once he fully recovers.
Still, the Lakers only have to look back two seasons ago on the trickle affect Andrew Bynum's 24-game absence did for Pau Gasol's fatigue and in exposing the Lakers' poor frontline depth. The Lakers have a better bench this year, but having Gasol carry the brunt of significant minutes isn't a good long-term formula.
2. Howard needs to be the Lakers' main defensive anchor. Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak summed up his thought process pretty well on why he essentially gave up Andrew Bynum for Howard: "We wanted the best." That points mostly to the defensive end where Howard has won the Defensive Player of the Year award in three of the past four seasons. Such a presence will mark the most immediate way Howard can establish a mark on the Lakers. With or without Howard, the Lakers were still going to be a dangerous team offensively. But the Lakers' ability to stop point guards, get back in transition and shrink the floor mostly rests on Howard's freakish athleticism, shot blocking ability and size.
3. Howards needs to generate easy baskets. The minute the Lakers make a defensive stop or rebounds, Howard needs to sprint to the basket. As soon as the Lakers set up their offense, Howard should flash to the top of the post and set a pick for Nash. Why? These two ingredients will ensure the Lakers generate quick points, a formula they've struggled with in seasons past because of their lack of speed.
Howard seems best equipped to perform both duties because he has the most power and speed on the Lakers' starting lineup. It'll also be the most effective way for him to get offensive looks considering the Lakers' half-court offense will center more on off-ball movement.
4. Howard has to accept a possibly reduced offensive role. Remember the days when Lakers Coach Mike Brown talked about how the Lakers' offense would first center on Bynum and Pau Gasol receiving looks in the post? Too bad it never happened. Oh, Bynum still had a breakout year. But Kobe Bryant still took way too many shots in isolation, Bynum played inconsistently against double teams and Gasol often looked out of place as a facilitator. So just because Bryant says Howard will receive more paint touches than he did in Orlando doesn't mean that will actually happen.
As a unit, it's integral the Lakers adopt a team mind set that players, such as Howard, are featured enough. But as far as Howard reacts to it, it is imperative that he accepts the possibility that he may at worst be a fourth option on the team. This isn't to suggest the Lakers are better off if he's just fighting for scraps. The Lakers will be most effective if there is no pecking order and they simply hit the open mood. But as far as his mind set goes, Howard has to prove that he's willing to make the necessary sacrifices to win. The more Howard and his teammates adopt that mentality, the easier it will actually become to find open looks.
5. Howard needs to adopt a championship mind set. As far as introductory press conferences go, Howard seemed more interested in basking in the Hollywood spotlight than talking about winning an NBA championship. The L.A. media will give him a honeymoon period early in the season. But the moment significant adversity hits or he struggles fitting in, the questions will become more inquisitive. Meanwhile, the rest of the country pretty much loathes Howard for how he handled his exit from Orlando.
The best way for Howard to rehab his image strictly involves his on-court performance and whether he can help the Lakers win a title. Should he fail to do that, the extra endorsements and Hollywood attention mean nothing.