Commentary

Dwight Howard too good to pass up

Despite risks, Mavericks need to go after Lakers center if opportunity arises

Updated: January 25, 2013, 5:52 PM ET
By Jean-Jacques Taylor | ESPNDallas.com

If the Dallas Mavericks have an opportunity to acquire Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard through either a trade or free agency after the season, they must do it.

Howard's talent is too immense, his potential too great. You just can't pass on a talent such as Howard, not when he's 27 years old and in the prime of his career.

But if the Mavs do get him, just know that Howard is going to break your heart -- over and over again.

He'll immediately raise your expectations and get you hyped about the possibility of the Mavs winning another NBA title, only to let you down.

That's because Howard has developed a loser mentality.

You can see it in the excuses he has made about his performance this season. And in his body language. And in his performance. Maybe Howard always had a loser mentality but it was hidden in a small media market like Orlando, where expectations didn't engulf him.

The Magic were just happy to be contenders. The sun didn't rise or shine in Orlando based on whether the Magic won or lost on a given night.

Howard is drowning in Los Angeles, where the Lakers are supposed to win every game and championships are considered a birthright. The team is underachieving with a 17-25 record and is lingering in 12th place in the Western Conference, a game behind the Mavs. And it's not going to get any better, because Howard can't handle the alpha dog that is Kobe Bryant.

[+] EnlargeDwight Howard
Harry How/Getty ImagesDwight Howard is sinking with the Lakers, but he still possesses rare skill.

You win championships with alpha dogs, whether we're talking NBA or NFL. You win with guys capable of carrying teams where they want to go with their talent or the sheer force of their will.

Dirk Nowitzki wasn't always an alpha male. Once he became one, the Mavs won a title.

It's so bad in Los Angeles that the Lakers are contemplating whether to trade Howard. It seemed improbable a couple of months ago that Howard wouldn't re-sign with the Lakers, giving up the extra year and $25 million or so the Lakers could give him that no other team could.

Not anymore.

And that's why the Mavs could become a player in the Howard sweepstakes.

The Mavs don't have nearly enough pieces to be a trade partner with the Lakers. Still, Howard has always let it be known that the Mavs were on the short list of teams he liked.

We all know Howard has profound talent. He can get 20 points and 20 rebounds on any given night. He can dominate a game with defense. After all, he has been named defensive player of the year three times.

Great talent or athleticism isn't always enough to win a title, though. Sometimes you need more. Some guys aren't quite capable of giving it to a franchise and a community. Look how Josh Hamilton collapsed under the pressure of trying to win last year after playing through every imaginable injury for four seasons.

Last season, Hamilton developed excuse after excuse for his subpar performance. It culminated with him quitting on the club three times in the final three weeks of the season as the Rangers experienced one of the worst collapses in MLB history.

Conventional wisdom says you must acquire a center at all costs. A star NBA center is the equivalent of a star quarterback or an ace pitcher.

That's why the Mavs shouldn't pass up a chance to get Howard, even though he has turned into a wishy-washy shell of himself. It began when he couldn't choose between becoming a free agent and staying with the Magic.

Ultimately, he chose to stay in Orlando because he didn't want fans angry with him.

C'mon, man.

The Magic traded Howard in the offseason to the Lakers, where he is averaging 16.7 points and 12 rebounds per game. Last season, he averaged 20.6 points and 14.5 rebounds.

He reportedly has whined about the number of shots and touches he is getting but won't confront Kobe about it -- not that it would matter.

Rick Carlisle is among the NBA's best coaches. He could help Howard regain his swag and become an NBA force again, if Howard could handle Carlisle's confrontational approach.

Not everyone can.

O.J. Mayo said he joined Dallas because Chauncey Billups told Mayo that Carlisle would fix his game.

And he has.

Can Carlisle fix Howard? Who knows? The six-time All-Star has a bad back and an attitude to match.

It's worth taking a shot, but keep your expectations in check. Guys with loser mentalities rarely deliver titles.

Jean-Jacques Taylor joined ESPNDallas.com in August 2011. A native of Dallas, Taylor spent the past 20 years writing for The Dallas Morning News, where he covered high schools sports, the Texas Rangers and spent 11 seasons covering the Dallas Cowboys before becoming a general columnist in 2006.

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