- Ramona Shelburne, ESPN Senior Writer
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Dwight Howard and Mike D'Antoni arrived in Los Angeles a few months apart but under remarkably similar circumstances -- in physical pain, in a hurry to undo the past year of their lives and in dire need of an image makeover.
They may part, just a few months later, under similar but troubling circumstances, neither having solved any of the issues they brought with them.
Of all the strange subplots in this Greek tragedy of a Lakers season, the parallel character arcs of Howard and D'Antoni might be the most fascinating and, in the end, the most devastating.
Forget for a moment whether Howard and Kobe Bryant can coexist. On the list of Lakers problems, that doesn't even make the cut. Bryant is trying to mentor Howard, who is somewhat grudgingly accepting the advice. They're not friends, but they're not enemies either. That's it. There are no flames, just smoke.
Forget, too, whether Howard and Pau Gasol can play together. It's a little awkward at times. They get frustrated with each other. But there's no tension. Over time they'll figure out a working relationship.
No, the relationship dynamic that has gone the most wrong for the Lakers this season is the one between D'Antoni and Howard. And the uglier this season gets, the more this relationship seems destined to break.
Break as in break up. Dwight or Mike? It may come down to that choice.
Howard can't seem to wrap his head around the way D'Antoni wants him to play. Worse, he doesn't seem to want to, as ESPN reported earlier this week that Howard has dropped hints in team circles and around the league that it would be difficult for him to re-sign with the Lakers this summer if D'Antoni were still the coach or if things hadn't substantially changed.
The coach, for his part, has tried to be flexible at times. But in the end, his system is his system. And frankly, if he's going to compromise it to accommodate a traditional back-to-the-basket center, it would be for Gasol -- who has better low-post skills -- than for Howard.
Something's gotta give. Because if it doesn't, the Lakers might have to give up on either Howard or D'Antoni.
Neither man has impressed many people this season. D'Antoni has proved to be everything the Knicks and their fans said he was: stubborn, unable to tailor his system to his personnel, folksy, fun and intense.
Howard has proved that he's not 100 percent yet after returning from back surgery, somewhat moody and at times immature. He has also been a hard worker, just as fun and gregarious as expected and at times brilliant on the court. At times …
From what the Lakers have seen, it's reasonable to wonder whether Howard is capable of leading this glamorous franchise. When the pressure mounts and the lights get hot, he hasn't always risen to meet the moment.
D'Antoni has shown even less in his time on the bench. So little, in fact, that it's really not even fair to evaluate him as a coach with so little time to install his vaunted offense.
But fairly or not, Howard and D'Antoni seem to be on a collision course. Howard isn't comfortable playing the way D'Antoni wants him to. D'Antoni simply can't persuade him to give it a real shot.
It doesn't have to end this way. Both men can probably give enough to solve things. But they both have to want to. And that means tackling all the issues they brought with them to L.A., not just the ones in front of them.
Howard or D'Antoni? The Lakers might have to choose.