Dwight Howard: Assessing Lakers Center's Value as Trade Deadline Nears

Mike ShiekmanFeatured ColumnistFebruary 9, 2013

BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 7: Dwight Howard #12 of the Los Angeles Lakers is congratulated by teammate Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers against the Boston Celtics during the game on February 7, 2013 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

As the NBA trade deadline approaches, Dwight Howard’s value has gone anywhere but up.

Since joining the Los Angeles Lakers, his numbers have been pedestrian (16 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks per game), while the team sits under .500 and outside of the Western Conference’s top eight.

Now the Los Angeles Lakers are in an interesting conundrum. All indications point to Howard effectively binding himself to L.A. this season by virtue of injuries, shoddy performance and organizational stubborness.

It has gotten to the point that Dwight has even become the joke among hoopheads, such as this tweet from NBA.com’s Sekou Smith:

In addition, it looks like the Lakers refuse to consider deals at this juncture. According to ESPN’s Chris Broussard, “Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak told Dwight Howard he will not be traded before the Feb. 21 trade deadline, according to league sources.” 

Even if the Lakers were to dangle him as trade bait, Howard will have to guarantee signing a long-term deal before his contract expires this offseason. In other words, Howard basically has a no-trade clause in his back pocket.

That leaves only a few suitors available with the current cap space to keep him: Brooklyn and Dallas, among others.

It’s obvious his talent beckons in those chiseled arms, but there's a grey area other teams would want to know: How healthy is Dwight today?

If this is as good as it gets, not many teams will want to sell the farm for a big man whose defensive points per possession ranks alongside the Carlos Boozers and Andray Blatches of the world.

Then consider the injury factor. Howard was originally slated to make his Laker debut by December or January, but took the floor on opening night. If his torn labrum wasn’t truly healed, then defending and rebounding in the post is threatening his long-term value.

When asked about playing through the pain, Howard replied (h/t Yahoo! Sports Adrian Wojnarowski):

"They can say what they want to say," Howard said softly at his locker. "None of these people are playing. None of these people have had injuries. They can say what they want about playing through pain or playing through injuries…I spent a whole summer trying to recover because I wanted to play through pain, show people I'm tough."

Catharsis aside, there's a possibility that Howard may need surgery for that torn labrum in the offseason. At the same time, Howard would be resigning with the Lakers to an extension. Sound like an investment Jim Buss wants to make?

While his trade value has diminished, the Lakers will stick it out for Howard this season. As they are turning on the jets toward a playoff run, Laker Nation hopes that Howard can improve the team's measly 17th ranked defense.

Otherwise, this Howard-L.A. dilemma will be at a crossroads this offseason.