Saturday, August 11, 2012

Dwight Howard's a Laker (But I'm Not Celebrating Yet)

While London slept during the Olympics, Dwight Howard stole the thunder like Prometheus stole fire from the gods. His two-year trade saga ended with him coming to the Lakers and normally I'd be celebrating, especially since Andrew Bynum got shipped out. But for some reason, I can't.

Even before this free agent saga turned embarrassing on Dwight and the Magic's part, I wrote in 2011 that the Lakers need a quality point guard (Chris Paul) before getting a big man. My point was that the Lakers needed perimeter speed and despite Pau Gasol's softness/Andrew Byunm's aloofness, they were still one of the NBA's best front courts.

Well they filled that need with Steve Nash earlier this summer. I still wasn't totally thrilled, but it finally gave the Lakers another ball-handler and offensive creator. It didn't solve their defensive issues and that was a bigger problem to me.

So now that they got the best rebounder/defender in the league, I should be jumping out the window right? For some reason, I just can't. Something doesn't feel right.

For one, the Lakers don't just rent superstars in their prime for rings. They make trades and guys usually stick around. Dwight Howard hasn't given the impression that he's sticking around longer. Maybe he's just waiting for the big payday next summer but until then, I'm wary until he earns his Laker stripes.

His back injuries don't scare me as much because that's the only major injury he's had in his career. I'm quick to blame that on the lockout but time will tell when he's back to 100%.

16 years ago, another clownish/oversized personality/movie-star center came to the Lakers on one of my greatest sports memories ever. The only difference with Shaquille O'Neal? Besides signing a long-term deal, Shaq established himself as a force on both sides. He had a scoring title and his dominance was just starting to be established.

He too had to learn to tone down his personality but he also had the talent/gifts to compensate for that. He also never had anything as embarrassing as Dwight's behavior during this saga - unless you count Kazaam or Steel.

Whether Dwight will be that remains to be seen. He's an emotional upgrade from Andrew Bynum. Despite his wishy-washy, reputation killing trade scenario.  where he seemed oblivious to his damage, he's all business on the court. He won't take stupid 3-pointers, won't take plays off and he'll give 100% effort. That's why he's the best center in the league.

His limited offensive game (despite his high FG% shooting) will benefit from Steve Nash putting the ball right where he wants it. It could be just as good as Nash was with Amar'e Stoudemire and since Dwight doesn't just play in the post, it could be open season on the rims.

The Lakers are now the No. 2 team in the West with a red flag of caution. Adding Dwight, Nash, Jodie Meeks, Antawn Jamison and more definitely helps. Oklahoma City should be concerned but not too scared. Miami should be concerned but they've only lost to the Lakers once since LeBron and Bosh came to town. Boston has improved and somehow, San Antonio is still going to be a factor despite falling apart the last two postseasons.

All of that should make me happy right? I know Kobe's time is short and he finally has the most talented starting lineup since that ill-fated 2003-04 season. It's win or bust. But while folks spray champagne, I'm sitting down because to quote James Taylor, I've seen fire and I've seen rain. Dwight can be both and not in a good way. Fiery on the court, a thunderstorm of bad emotions and oblivious thoughts.

I've respected Dwight's game since he was in high school. Now he has to earn my respect again as a professional and commit to whatever it takes to bring banner No. 17. If it means, he focuses on defense and rebounding, so be it. If it means toning down the clowning in the presence of focused veterans, so be it. I just don't know what to expect. 

Since Dwight is a fellow man of faith, I'll remind him of 1 Corinthians 13:11 - When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.

It's time to become a man, own your mistakes and be ready to work. The Lakers attract stars but the stars have to work to become legendary. Greatness is measured in rings, not just smiles and individual acclaim.

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