The Lakers need more from franchise center Dwight Howard.
"Howard's got to get going," said ABC/ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy in a phone conversation with The Times. "He's capable of giving so much more."
"I think he has to focus in on performance more than image," he said. "I think he's probably been a little bit overwhelmed — you can say you want a big market, but not everybody is made for a big market."
A free agent this summer, Howard has yet to state his long-term intentions.
"For two years he's waffled about everything — about staying in Orlando or leaving, about being committed to L.A.," said Van Gundy, whose brother, former Magic coach Stan Van Gundy, didn't always see eye to eye with Howard. "He could end all this tomorrow if he says, 'I'm going to sign. I'm here for the long term.' "
Van Gundy gave credit to Howard for playing through injuries.
"He's earned the right for the benefit of the doubt," he said. "I think what people should focus on, not is he playing hurt or not, but is he playing all-out?"
Although Van Gundy believes Howard is the key, he doesn't blame the Lakers' center for all of the team's troubles.
"I don't think they controlled what they could have controlled as well as they might have, and I think they'll look back on this first half of the season with a great sense of disappointment and regret for how they've handled some situations," he said. "They've got to value winning over everything else, which will drive them to cooperate. Time and again there's been resistance versus acceptance."
Van Gundy isn't sure the Lakers will be able to climb into the playoffs.
"They can, but I don't expect them to. They are built under the premise of having all four of those guys," Van Gundy said. "Somebody has been missing basically the whole year."
Even with the injuries to Steve Nash, Pau Gasol and Howard, Van Gundy still doesn't believe the Lakers have played to their potential.
"Instead of everybody united behind one common goal, it seems like everyone's trying to parcel out who and what's to blame," he said. "This has been going on all year. It started with the firing of Mike Brown and it hasn't stopped."
Van Gundy won't point a finger at Coach Mike D'Antoni.
"What are you going to blame, the second coach within the year? I think it's foolish. I think it's pointless. I don't think it has anything to do with who is coaching [or] style of play," Van Gundy said. "If we're going to give 90% of the credit to the players when they win, then they deserve equal amounts of blame when they lose."
So what do the Lakers need to do to make the postseason?
"They need to be quiet, not feed the media frenzy," Van Gundy said. "I think they can get Portland and maybe Utah. I don't think they're catching Houston. Houston is really good."
Despite his prediction, Van Gundy still thinks the Lakers have great potential.
"A together Nash, [Kobe] Bryant and Howard playing all-out — they can win any game, any place, any time," Van Gundy said.