COMMENTARY | The buzz about the upcoming Dwight Howard sweepstakes has been rivaled in my household by a recent abundance of Facebook friends posting pictures of their adorable son/daughter "graduating" from first grade or kindergarten. I'm glad your kid can count to 100 and line up single-file for a fire drill. He made it through the year without maiming the class pet or setting fire to the bathroom. Congrats. But, when did rudimentary expectations become accomplishments worthy of celebration? And when did Dwight Howard become worthy of a max money contract from the Los Angeles Lakers?
Apparently, Dwight is willing to entertain other suitors. I'll take the minority view and argue that Lakers fans should pray he is well entertained in Texas, Atlanta or the Bay Area. Anyone who has watched "Backstage: Lakers" on Time Warner's SportsNet Lakers knows that Lakers' executives have optimistically compared Dwight to legends like Shaq, Kareem and Wilt. But D-12 seems better suited for comparisons to infants, toddlers and first-graders. Dare I say, Dwight is a diva.
Some would argue Kobe is a diva. Kobe is a champion. With few exceptions, divas are not. What makes Dwight a diva? He has max talent, garners max attention, and apparently wants max money, but too often he delivers a midlevel exception performance.
Nine years in, it seems Dwight has quit improving. Go to any statistical-tracking website (e.g. www.baskeball-reference.com), and based on the numbers, it appears his progression actually peaked in his fourth season; since then he's been the same player, or arguably worse. The last two years, his free throw percentage fell off the same cliff as Dirk's career.
Averaging 18 points and 13 rebounds is phenomenal. . . if you're Jayson Williams, but they're first grade expectations for an athlete of Dwight's caliber and potential. Fulfilling basic expectations might be a reason to party in Orlando, but the Lakers don't celebrate first grade graduations, or at least they didn't when Dr. Jerry Buss was running the show. Lakers fans should hope Jim learned something from his father.
Dwight's persona doesn't offer any encouragement that he might actually tap his championship potential. Being a champion doesn't mean you need to be a sourpuss, but a leader needs to be intensely competitive and focused. A sponsor-friendly demeanor is fine at the TV studio, but that's where it should stay. Dwight has no rings, and yet his persona suggests he's content. Kobe has five rings, and is obsessed with getting a sixth. Do the Lakers really want to keep these two in the same locker room?
As a "Pulp Fiction" fan, Lakers fan, and father of an infant baby, one particular Tarantino quote has been recurring in my mind recently: "I'm a mushroom-cloud-layin'-[mutha']! I'm superfly TNT!" I imagine that's what my baby boy is thinking late at night when he resists my soothing efforts with an enduring crying spell. Perhaps he'll grow up to be an opera singer, but for now he's superfly TNT. When it comes to the Lakers, Kobe may be the verbal volcano, but Dwight's attitude is the mushroom-cloud-layin'-mo-fo. Kobe is the champion, Dwight is the diva.
That's not the only resemblance between D-12 and babies. While Pau Gasol might not always put the big boy pants on, the pants are nowhere to be found in Dwight's wardrobe. There is a foreign vernacular that fathers-to-be come to know after a baby is born. A few of these definitions can be illustrated with the help of Mr. Howard.
T-dap Shot. You don't have to know what tetanus, diptheria and pertussis are to know they don't sound too good. They're deadly for a newborn baby, so parents need to get the T-dap vaccine. Funny how it kind of sounds like the T-Mac vaccine, as in "We need to get out of the 1st round of the playoffs, please give us the T-Mac vaccine."
Sidebar: If I'm a San Antonio Spurs fan, I'm a little worried that T-Mac is on the playoff roster. Will the basketball Gods really allow T-Mac to get a championship? Well, they gave some breaks to J-Kidd, Peja and Brian Cardinal, so anything is possible.
In the case of the Lakers, they need immunity from Ten years of Dwight's Apathetic Performances. Please, Jim Buss, expose some other fan base to that TDAP.
Meconium. Sounds like a precious metal, right? "Give her the best this valentine's day, 3 carats of meconium." Or a fancy men's cologne? Well, it is eau de toilette in a sense. Meconium is crap; dark, sticky crap. It's the name given to the junk inside a baby's intestines that he excretes in his first bowel movement.
A good analogy is that George Karl was the meconium that had to be purged from the Nuggets' organization before they could be anything other than perennial first round knockouts. A better analogy is that Dwight Howard is the meconium that the Lakers need to let loose if they hope to win another title before Kobe retires.
Colostrum. When a mother breastfeeds, the first liquid that offers nourishment isn't milk; it's a yellow substance with antibodies called colostrum. But colostrum isn't long-term nourishment; it only suffices for a few days until the mother's milk comes in. Think of colostrum as the poor man's breast milk.
Comparing former point guards, Jordan Farmar was the colostrum and Van Exel was the milk. Or if you want to compare Lakers' centers, Dwight is the colostrum and Shaq, Kareem and Wilt were the milkmen.
Dwight is a fine player with exceptional talents, but he's not the player he could be, and Lakers fans must wonder if the Lakers can win a title with D-12 as their best player. They have to wonder why the Lakers would even entertain paying him max money.
When you're three weeks old, it's okay for the world to revolve around you. But when you're a nine-year veteran who is supposed to be the best player at his position, but has less competitive fire in his being than Kobe has in his Achilles, it's not okay. Lakers fans should hope the Lakers stop babying Dwight Howard and let him grow up . . . somewhere else.
Lucas Tucker has been a Lakers fan, and NBA fan, for 30 years, and is qualified to explain the distinction between the standard of greatness for most teams, and the standard of greatness for the Lakers.
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