The Lakers momentarily stopped the bleeding on Friday, playing smart and together in an easy 102-84 home victory over a decent Utah Jazz squad.
The team will need a lot more performances like that one just to sneak into the playoffs this season, and the way the rest of the year plays out will have long-term consequences on the way the franchise looks over the next several years.
Dwight Howard, as you may have heard, will be an unrestricted free agent at the conclusion of this season. The Lakers traded for him believing that his re-signing in Los Angeles was a virtual certainty, given the storied history in Los Angeles, the perfect weather, and the chance to play for a team that does its best to field a championship-contending roster every single year.
But with the disastrous way things have started for this star-stacked Lakers team, along with the hiring of Mike D’Antoni, whose offense doesn’t traditionally feature its post players, Howard may consider other options more closely when the time comes.
His former coach, Stan Van Gundy, sees the chances of Howard remaining in Los Angeles as no more than a 50-50 proposition.
I asked Stan Van Gundy if he thinks Dwight Howard will be wearing a Lakers jersey by the end of the season: “That’s going to be an interesting thing,” Van Gundy said. “I think they will keep him for the rest of the year. I think they still think they’ve got a lot to offer and can re-sign him. So, I think he’ll be there for the rest of the year, but I think it’s ’50-50′ or maybe even worse odds for the Lakers that they can retain him at the end of the year and if they realize that, you could see them make a move at the trading deadline.”
The Lakers have no plans to trade Howard at this stage, but Van Gundy has point, here.
If the team comes to the realization that Howard leaving is more likely than him staying, they would be wise to see what they could get for him before the Feb. 21 deadline passes.
The worst thing for the Lakers would be to see some improvement in the coming weeks which encourages them to keep the roster intact, only to see the team revert to its losing ways in the second half of the season, which could negatively impact Howard’s chances of staying.
The reality right now is that Howard doesn’t know what he wants, and likely won’t before the book on this season is closed. It’s almost certain that the Lakers will keep Howard through the end of the year, but predicting the future beyond that is essentially impossible.