The Los Angeles Lakers' acquisition of Dwight Howard this past offseason virtually rocked the basketball world. Expectations for the team to succeed immediately skyrocketed with the addition of the All-Star center. L.A. was automatically pegged as the team to win it all in 2012-13.
It appeared as if, for a brief moment, the event commonly known as the "Dwightmare" had reached its end.
Little did we know, the Dwightmare was just beginning. Howard immediately showed signs of struggle; he rushed his rehab from offseason back surgery to be healthy by the start of the season and he soon felt the consequences of doing so. And as if that wasn't bad enough, he had to encounter a sudden coaching change and frequent uncertainty in team chemistry.
In situations like this, it's easy to point the finger of blame. Is the Lakers organization to blame for setting the expectations too high on the big man, or is D12 responsible for not living up to his own hype?
In this humble writer's opinion, the Lakers' expectations for Howard are anything but unrealistic.
The reason behind this belief? One word: time. Time is not on the Lakers' side right now; when they acquired Howard, speculation immediately arose as to whether or not he would commit to the team past this season. After confirmations began appearing that Howard would test out the free-agent waters after this season, the countdown clock began for L.A.
What was once a situation described as "crossing the bridge when we get to it" has now become "beat the clock." With the season halfway over and the Lakers' performance being far from where it should be for a team with such a stacked roster, the purple and gold has very little time to utilize Howard to his fullest.
While it is Howard's responsibility to produce like only he can, it is the Lakers' obligation to hold him accountable to this standard before they lose him. The way the front office sees it, if Howard is pushed to his limit, he can unlock his true potential and realize that this is the team he needs to be with in order to establish himself as one of the greatest to play the game.
Needless to say, this plan could easily backfire. Howard can quickly get burnt out from what he can consider to be unreal expectations for his performance and simply go on the proverbial autopilot until he can shop around for a new team in the summer.
Of course, the team's brass isn't the only culprit in this basketball whodunit. Kobe Bryant's recent comments about Howard's inability to play through injury can very well prove to be a catalyst in this situation.
Although he has not publicly expressed it, who's to say Howard doesn't hold some deep-rooted resentment at the five-time NBA champion that is strong enough to pick up his bags and catch the first train out of L.A.? Both Bryant and the team's head honchos are on thin ice, and they need to get in control now in order to avoid doing damage control later, adding more frustration to an already-struggling squad.
The key for the Lakers in this aspect is to find balance. They need to be sure to find that middle ground between motivation and unnecessary pressure and be sure to stay there if they want to have any chance at keeping Howard after this season.
Like many games recorded throughout the history of the NBA, the constant changing of the balance of power between Howard and the Lakers has created an ongoing dramatic struggle that will play out until the very last second.
Until then, it's anyone's game.