- Stephen A. Smith, ESPNNewYork.com columnist
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He never swore his allegiance to the Purple and Gold. He never said he wanted to be a Laker for life. Dwight Howard never displayed affection for the pantheon of Lakers big men serving as his predecessors -- just that he wanted to one day be as iconic as they are.
This is the best the Los Angeles Lakers can hope for from D-Howard at the moment. That he's great. Committed to excellence.
And so it is precisely for that reason that, as we sit here today, with the Lakers visiting the Nets in Brooklyn and an injured Howard on the sideline, GM Mitch Kupchak should make sure to visit his Nets counterpart, Billy King, for the sole purpose of attempting to trade L.A.'s resident big man.
Quick, fast and in a hurry!
Trade him for some combination involving Nets center Brook Lopez. Trade him for multiple pieces involving Hawks forward Josh Smith -- who desperately wants out of Atlanta -- and other respectable parts.
Any scenario is a better option than the Lakers sitting around and waiting for Dwight Howard, who becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer, to validate his love for a franchise he just joined this season, a team mired in one soap opera after another, praying he'll commit long-term when questions about his desire to stay still persist.
"We will not trade Dwight Howard," Kupchak told Newsday last month. "We have no intention of making a trade. It's unlikely that we'll make any trade with any of our principal players."
Such proclamations do not make the Lakers look smart, or like an organization with a clue about what is in the heart and mind of Howard.
In a one-on-one interview, Dwight Howard swore he's committed to the Lakers -- for this season. That he wants to remain a Laker -- for this season. That he's happier with Kobe Bryant now, more so than he was before, although he said there's still room for their relationship to get better.
"I'm learning from Kobe," Howard told me on Monday. "I'm watching how he works, how he operates, what he knows and feels about this organization. Things continue to get better every day. But there's always room for growth."
Howard also said he believes he and Pau Gasol should play together, even though coach Mike D'Antoni has them playing apart.
What part of all this are the Lakers finding difficult to comprehend?
Somebody help me out here, please!
Howard, still regaining strength in his surgically repaired back, acknowledges he's about 75 percent. He added that there's still a tingling sensation, even when he's simply sitting down. Then there is Howard's shoulder injury to consider for a Lakers team four games below .500 and currently seeded 10th in the Western Conference.
But Howard is still averaging 16.5 points and 11.9 rebounds. He's still widely considered the best big man in the game (albeit as an awful free throw shooter at 49.6 percent). Yet he's still desperately in need of feeling comfortable and evidently still questioning if the Lakers are the right fit for him.
According to sources, Bryant is trying to "give Dwight the franchise. He knows the future of the Lakers rides on Dwight's shoulders, but he also questions how much Dwight wants it."
Bryant comes into Tuesday night having launched 1,014 shots on the season, compared to Howard's 442. He knows Howard wants the ball more, preferably in sweet spots on the floor, but also that D'Antoni's system isn't necessarily conducive to such things occurring this season, the coach's first in L.A.
The thing is, all the Lakers definitively have is this season. There is no tomorrow. Howard becomes an unrestricted free agent July 1, free to go anywhere he pleases.
Howard is free to trust everyone or no one. Free to dictate his own terms. That means his own system, arguably his own coach, and definitely which franchise to choose between the Lakers, Mavs and Hawks, just to name a few.
"I've trusted enough people in my career," Howard deadpanned. "Now it's time for me to trust myself. I've given and given. I've thought about everyone else. Now it's time for me to think about me."
Howard is not wrong here. He has earned the right to prioritize himself above others within the NBA landscape. But the Lakers have priorities, too. They have an obligation to Laker Nation -- and Kobe Bryant nearing the end of his career -- to keep this team as competitive as possible in the years to follow.
You do this by doing one of two things: making sure Howard commits before the Feb. 21 trade deadline or getting equitable compensation -- someone who's resolute about wanting to be a Laker -- while you can.
Anything less is beyond irresponsible.
If Jim Buss, the man running the Lakers organization, does not see it that way, someone else needs to before it's too late.
Dwight Howard is saying as much, simply by not saying much at all about his future with the Lakers.
21hMarc Stein and Ramona Shelburne