Lakers center Dwight Howard drives to the basket against Celtics center… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
With the trade deadline at noon Pacific time Thursday, General Manager Mitch Kupchak made it clear over recent days he has no intention of trading center Dwight Howard.
"It's hard to get a talent in this league and to have a talent like Dwight Howard," said Kupchak on Wednesday on ESPN Radio's "The Herd with Colin Cowherd." "He belongs to have his name on the wall and a statue in front of Staples [Center] at some point and time."
Howard responded well to that with a 24-point, 12-rebound game against the Boston Celtics. In just 30 minutes, Howard hit 10 of 13 shots to help the Lakers win, 113-99.
"He was very aggressive. He was very active. He was big for us on the offensive glass -- on the defensive glass," said Kobe Bryant. "He controlled the paint defensively for us and we got our pick-and-roll game going, which got him a lot of easy opportunities, which kept the defense off balance. It was a great game by him."
Bryant and Howard haven't exactly meshed this season. The Lakers haven't as a team, struggling to stay healthy and consistent.
"Everything that’s been going on, Mitch knows what we’ve been going through this year," said Howard. "He sees it, the stuff that’s been going on with me. He understands, especially with my back. He’s just been in full support."
Howard is still recovering from back surgery while playing through a shoulder injury.
Kupchak "understands that right now I’m not where I need to be physically but he continues to push me, continues to motivate me to getting in better shape and playing better," said Howard. "All this stuff takes time, coming off an injury."
Teammate Steve Nash has made a concerted effort to connect with Howard down the stretch of the regular season.
"Dwight and I talked coming out of the All-Star break to really just keep working and try to form a partnership," said Nash. "If we can look for each other and work together -- and get that pick-and-roll game going, I think it involves everybody and allows us all to be a threat. It gives us energy on both ends of the floor."
The results were promising against the Celtics, but the Lakers still have a long way to go to get into the top eight in the West for a playoff berth.
Howard will be a free agent this summer. While he would get less money from any other team if he leaves, part of Howard's decision will be based on nonmonetary factors.
"Me and Mitch have talked" about trade rumors, said Howard. "He just told me to trust him, so I’m going to trust him and go out there every night, play as hard as I can."
Ultimately, Kupchak's relationship with Howard may be more crucial than how well he bonds with Bryant and Nash. Bryant has hinted he has one or two years left in the league. Nash just turned 39 years old.
Howard needs to believe in the long-term future of the team if he's going to invest the next five years of his career in Los Angeles. That's what Kupchak has to sell Howard on.
There are no guarantees, but Kupchak isn't going to cash out Howard in February because there's a chance he might lose him in July.