The Los Angeles Lakers honestly think a billboard campaign is the best way to keep their free-agent big man? Apparently so, as evidenced by billboards popping up around LA, including on the side of the Staples Center itself. The billboards plead with Dwight to “Stay” and include the Twitter hashtag #STAYD12, to promote the begging to continue on Twitter as well.
Chalk this one up to nothing more than a PR ploy. It’s the Lakers’ way of being able to say they went “all out,” or even “all-in” if you prefer, on their star player when he eventually signs with a team outside of LA.
“Dwight is in the category of the great of the great,” Lakers’ GM Mitch Kupchak said in his “State of the Lakers” address. “He’s over his back injury and there’s no reason he can’t play seven, eight more years at that position. There’s no doubt in my mind if he does, he’s in the Hall of Fame. Those players are just hard to come by.”
Billboards and compliments are just not a serious attempt at keeping the big man in LA though. If the Lakers are serious about retaining Howard’s services, they need to fire head coach Mike D’Antoni and bring in a coach that will employ a system better suited to Dwight’s skills. That’s pretty much the only thing it will take to keep him in LA.
It’s no secret at all, Howard was not happy playing in D’Antoni’s system. He wasn’t getting enough touches, and will continue to not get the touches he wants so long as he is playing under D’Antoni.
Beyond that, Howard understands the history of the Lakers and sees the opportunity in front of him. It’s been a topic on sports talk radio practically non-stop that he enjoys living in Los Angeles and would like to find reasons to stay in LA, but not with D’Antoni as head coach.
Howard will never go on the record and state this as being a condition for his re-signing. He dreads the label of being a “coach killer,” especially with the label already having been attached to him once in Orlando with the firing of Stan Van Gundy. Van Gundy was relieved of his duties after Howard said he was unhappy playing under him and may not continue with the Magic if Van Gundy remained the coach. Well, that’s all it took and the Magic got a new coach.
Howard denied after that he wanted Van Gundy let go, and his respect for his former coach has reportedly only grown since the two parted ways. They’re actually friends to this day and Van Gundy has defended Howard’s status as the top center in the league on multiple occasions.
The thing is, Van Gundy is right. Howard may not have lived up to the inflated expectations that were placed on him when he landed in Los Angeles, but he is one of the top centers, if not the top center in the league. He’s also a good defender, who’s skills are lost in D’Antoni’s never-defensive mindset.
D’Antoni is not a bad coach, and he did not do a bad job with the Lakers. He just didn’t show a willingness to adjust his coaching style to fit the team he was coaching, that includes finding better ways to utilize Howard and involve him more as one of the focal points of the offense.
It’s just not hard to see why Dwight may look elsewhere rather than sticking around to team up with Kobe Bryant for another season and bring another championship back to LA. The run-and-gun, guard-focused, perimeter shooting offense that D’Antoni employs just doesn’t quite suit the big-man’s skills.
Then there’s the laundry list of complaints from this ESPN piece:
According to sources with knowledge of the situation, part of the discussion between Howard and Kupchak centered around Howard’s frustration with D’Antoni — particularly how the center felt marginalized as the coach looked to Bryant and Steve Nash for leadership and suggestions and discounted Howard’s voice.
“We had to just sell out to whatever he wanted, whether we liked it or not,” Howard said of D’Antoni following his exit interview. “We had to do what was going to benefit the team, and being one of the leaders on the team, I had to make sure I kept the guys in line to what the coach wanted us to do.”
All indications are that Jim Buss won’t acknowledge that he made a mistake in hiring D’Antoni, meaning the head coach won’t be going anywhere. If that’s truly the case, then you have to believe that the Laker’s billboard and public begging campaign are simply meant to build up some good will with an already loyal fan base in the likely event that Dwight bolts town.
Kupchak and company can make a stronger offer than essentially any other team, leaving the door open for a reunion with Howard, but D’Antoni will need to adjust his coaching style to better accommodate his star big-man’s skill set if a long-term partnership between the two is ever going to work.
If that doesn’t happen, the Lakers can do all the public ego-stroking they like with Howard, it’ll still just result in further frustration and lead to another “Dwightmare” for the Lakers when he decides he wants out again. And trust me, with D’Antoni as the head coach, there will certainly be an “again.”
UPDATE: Further illustrating the point that a Howard-D’Antoni reunion in LA is highly unlikely, ESPN-LA has published the following after this article was submitted this morning:
Howard is willing to forgo the extra $30 million the Lakers can pay him to play for a coach and in a system he feels will better use his skill set, one source said.
The Lakers can offer Howard a five-year, $118 million contract, while other teams can pay him only $88 million over four years.
Howard plans to meet with Dallas, Houston and Atlanta before meeting with the Lakers once teams are allowed to contact free agents beginning July 1, a source said. It appears that the teams will visit Howard in Los Angeles.