As the likelihood of Dwight Howard leaving this summer increases with seemingly each day, Lakers fans are beginning to feel a sense of panic and denial. No player has left the Lakers in this manner: a superstar player, turning down $100 million, leaving for a futile franchise like Houston or Dallas.
“He couldn’t turn down all that money.”
“Los Angeles is the perfect place for him and his personality.”
“There’s not a better franchise than the Lakers.”
“How could he say no to playing with Kobe Bryant.”
Spoiler alert Lakers fans: That all means NOTHING to Howard. The quicker you accept that small fact, the easier the prospective let-down will be. Dwight is not enamored with the LA lifestyle. He doesn’t care that the Lakers have 16 banners hanging from the rafters. To him, James Harden is equal to Kobe Bryant.
And if Dwight leaves, there will undoubtedly be a large hole in the middle of the floor. The Lakers will lose a young athletic big man who is arguably the best defensive player, assuming he’s healthy. Pair that with Bryant coming back from his Achilles injury and the Lakers will have an interesting roster to start next season.
But under no circumstances should the Lakers tank next season. The sentiment around a small contingency of Lakers fans seems to be that, given the talent in the 2014 draft and the fact we have a first rounder next season, the Lakers should do everything possible to lose. As a lifelong Lakers fan, nothing would infuriate me more as a fan than watching the Lakers not try to win every game possible.
We aren’t the Cleveland Cavaliers. We aren’t the Charlotte Bobcats. We aren’t the Washington Wizards. We have a storied past, including multiple championships, MVPs, All-Stars, and some of the greatest players of all time. You can sit and say that shouldn’t matter, that the past is the past, but it does matter. A certain amount of pride has to be involved when your the Los Angeles Lakers, similar to if you’re the New York Yankees, for example.
Looking at the Lakers roster next season sans Dwight Howard, it’s not devoid of talent or firepower. Pau Gasol is far more suited to be the center in a Mike D’Antoni offense than Howard is. Using Earl Clark and Ryan Kelly in stretch four roles will spread the floor, much like D’Antoni wants. MWP, Kobe, and Nash will all return healthy. Most importantly, they have a full pre-season of implementing D’Antoni’s coaching schemes, no matter what they may be.
It’s simple: you don’t tank with this team. Are you going to tell Kobe, who is going to work his ass off this summer, that it was all for naught and you aren’t focused on winning? He’ll be 35 in August and nearing the end of his career. Are you going to simply waste a season of possible production from Kobe?
What about Nash? You brought him in last summer with the intent of being a competitive team seeking a title. What message are you sending future players who might consider the Lakers? Pau Gasol, a man you continually shop, but who continually contributes at a high level, is just going to accept the fact you’re giving up on the season?
Do you think Mike D’Antoni is going to be up to the idea? Here’s a man who led the Lakers to a 28-12 finish over the last three months of the season, yet fans are asking for him to be fired. What are the fans going to do if he mails it in with the rest of the team? He can surely kiss his job goodbye.
None of this is to even mention the complete crap shoot the NBA Draft lottery is. You can intentionally lose all you want, but that guarantees you nothing in the Draft lottery. Since the lottery system was introduced in 1990, only THREE TIMES has the team with the worst record gotten the number one pick. There’s nothing guaranteed about the lottery. So why would you throw away a whole season in HOPES that you may be awarded a high draft pick.
Tanking is never a strategy that a NBA team should adopt. When that NBA team is the Los Angeles Lakers, specifically the 2013-14 Los Angeles Lakers, it’s nothing less than a ludicrous idea.