In their first game without former head coach Mike Brown, the Los Angeles Lakers looked good, crushing the Golden State Warriors 101-77. But the 2-4 Lakers have one big problem they have not yet solved.
Dwight Howard is not looking very good.
The whole concept of this Lakers dream team (they won't say it, but that's what it is) is founded on Howard. Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol are not new. Steve Nash is not as good as he was in 2005. Howard is supposed to be the game-changer.
Nobody knows how great the Lakers can be this year. Yet one thing is clear: If the Lakers win the title this year, Howard will be the finals MVP. That is not a prediction about Howard. That is simply a result of the fact that if Kobe is the best player on this team, they will not win.
If Howard can dominate and lead this team with Kobe as his right-hand man, then the Lakers will deserve to be the favorites.
Dwight so Far
In the early going of the season, Howard has not looked like a superstar. In Friday's big home win, he contributed only six points on 2-of-6 shooting. He grabbed only eight rebounds—compared against Gasol's 16—and put up a measly plus-2 differential.
Howard has yet to have a big game in his first six tries with the Lakers. He has not dominated defensively and has not owned the paint on offense. Obviously, some or all of this can be blamed on his nagging back problems. However, these problems need to get fixed relatively soon if the Lakers are going to be who they intend to be.
The ceiling on Dwight Howard is sky high. We know that. He was an MVP as recently as the 2010-11 season. He was considered by many to be better than LeBron as recently as 2009 when he outplayed him head to head in the playoffs.
Howard remains a three-time Defensive Player of the Year. He continues to be the most physically talented and athletic center currently in the world. It is not enough for him to be the second- or third-best player on the Lakers. He has to be the best.
Perhaps he needs time to heal. Perhaps he needs practice with his teammates. Maybe he needs Phil Jackson. It is clear that he needs to be better than he has been.