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Am I the Only Dwight Howard Apologist Left?

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COMMENTARY | "Trade Dwight Howard!" said the overzealous Los Angeles Lakers fan. To that, my rebuttal is always, "OK, then what?"

Thankfully, the trade deadline has passed and that rhetoric is dead for the most part (some fans still clamor for the Lakers to pull off the first post-deadline trade in league history). But the hate on Howard continues.

I get it, he's brought on a lot of the anger fans have upon himself with ill-advised comments and smiles while the Lakers are in the middle of turmoil. Plus, there was that whole dismantling of a franchise in Orlando -- so there's that.

Fans in L.A. are understandably guarded now, because they don't want to be a part of the Dwightmare, Parts 2, 3 or 4... wherever we are at this point.

I've been a D12 apologist almost to a fault. I've written my fair share of criticisms of him, but I usually end up sticking up for the All-Star more often then not. That's mostly because much of what's said about him is asinine.

"He can't get along or play with Kobe"

"He says dumb things, so he's not worth it"

"If the Lakers trade him, they can rebuild quicker"

"He's a crybaby"

...etc. The list goes on.

Who could the Lakers acquire in a D12 trade that could possibly be a franchise player with which to build around? As much as people don't want to admit it, Howard is the Lakers' centerpiece for the future, and for good reason. There's no better one out there.

"Brook Lopez!"

Stop kidding yourself. Just. Stop.

Take, for example, this season, which for all intents and purposes has been an utter disaster given the talent on the roster and the struggle to get into the playoffs. Howard has nagging injuries, has missed games and continues to have challenges at times fitting into the offense.

The result? In 56 games, he's leading the NBA in rebounding (12.1 rpg) and literally may have saved the season on Wednesday night vs. the New Orleans Hornets with a critical block on Robin Lopez's dunk that would have tied the game late in the fourth quarter. His 16 points per contest are short of his career average of 18.2, but he's never played with a legend like Kobe Bryant who is a certified primary scorer.

He may not have been as engaged defensively as he was on that night in any other game this season, but he also may not have been as healthy. That seems to be lost on a lot of people.

Many Lakers fans are upset -- as they should be about the way this season's gone.

But one thing everyone needs to keep in mind is that the poor product on the floor we've all seen too much of in 2012-13 is not solely Dwight Howard's issue. Losing has provoked a lot of anger in Southern California, and Howard is an easy target.

That anger has to do with the personnel and coach and how they fit with one another, a number of issues on defense and lack of depth as they continue to deal with significant injuries to their bigs and other key players.

In other words, if this is as bad as it gets with Howard, then every one of the purple and gold faithful should be thanking Mitch Kupchak with daily e-mails and phone calls that he was able to ship Andrew Bynum out of town before he broke down completely.

Remember --16.0 points per game, 12.1 rebounds and actual athleticism at the position that we never saw with Bynum or any other center in the NBA is greater than zero.

Michael C. Jones covers the Los Angeles Lakers and the NBA. He writes regularly for SB Nation and is the Founder of Sports Out West.

Catch him on Twitter @MikeJonesTweets

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