In a recent interview with ESPN's Stephen A. Smith, Laker all-star center Dwight Howard reflected on his first season in Los Angeles, adjusting to the Lakers' system and the media attention he has garnered since leaving the Orlando Magic last season.
Right now, my only focus is to get us into the playoffs and win the championship. Nothing else matters at this point. I also understand that right now, there's no need for all the circus, and all the stuff that happened last year to start back up. I don't want it, my team doesn't need it. I don't need it, and frankly, our fans don't need it neither.
If Howard is true to his word, the Lakers may be a force to be reckoned with during the second half of the season. Despite being the best true center in the NBA, Howard has received criticism for his performances on and off the court in recent years.
The "Dwight Howard Saga" began when Howard first expressed his frustration with the Magic, following a disappointing end to the 2010-2011 season.
It wasn't even so much that Howard wanted out of Orlando as he couldn't make up his mind what he wanted.
On multiple occasions, Howard would hint at wanting a trade away from the Magic. At another point, he'd sign an extension than test free agency.
The media began to label Howard as selfish, a far cry from the player many had considered likable and comical. Howard's tenure with the Magic ended abruptly due to a back injury that saw him miss the remainder of the 2011-12 season
The 2012 NBA offseason could be considered, "The Summer of Dwight". After the firings of head coach Stan Van Gundy and GM Otis Smith, Magic management decided to move their disgruntled superstar.
The Brooklyn Nets were a favorite to land the big man, as Howard expressed interest previously in joining the new team in the Bronx. However, the Nets invested in Brook Lopez as their center, signing Lopez to a four-year, $60 million deal.
When Howard ended up in Los Angeles, the media firestorm began. Joining a lineup of future Hall-of-Famers and past All-Stars, Howard and the Lakers were going to have a chance to compete for the NBA Championship.
However, fighting injuries and a lack of chemistry, the Lakers began the season with a disappointing 20-26 record entering February. Howard has received criticism for his play, despite playing through injuries and adjusting to a new system.
But, when healthy, Howard has shown signs of why he is still considered one of the NBA's best.
Los Angeles has won three of their last four games and is looking like a team that has finally learned to play together.
A large part of this credit is due to Howard. Even with an injured back and shoulder, Howard is still averaging a double-double with 16.5 PPG and 11.9 RPG.
Kobe Bryant has emerged as a passer in recent games, which has allowed Howard to get the touches he craves. A healthy Steve Nash and Pau Gasol will also help the Lakers when put in the right situation for their play styles.
Dwight Howard @DwightHoward
Hello World, Hello LA. Hitting practice hard today.12/20/2012, 3:47:30 PM
But the key piece to this puzzle is Dwight Howard.
Laker fans expect Bryant to put up points, but the success of Dwight Howard as a dominant big man will be key.
Keeping Dwight focused and happy is also just as important. A disgruntled player is the worst thing a team struggling to find their chemistry can have.
Howard has shown in the past that he can be both a team player and a team cancer. When upbeat and on his game, Howard is one of the best in the league. Surrounded by inferior talent, Howard was capable of leading the Magic to three straight division championships and an NBA Finals appearance.
The risk and reward factor with Dwight Howard is obvious. However, when satisfied with his situation, the reward of having Howard on your team outweighs the risk dramatically.