Los Angeles’ “Dwightmare” only gets worse with time

If you’re popular enough to have a nickname, try to do your absolute best to have it be a positive one. That’s the general rule of thumb in sports – don’t even allow outsiders to pounce on the opportunity to create something cruel, degrading, and catchy all at once. There are fitting examples of good ones, such as “The Truth” (Paul Pierce) and the “Black Mamba” (Kobe Bryant) of course. Even “Boogie Cousins” – a fitting descriptor of DeMarcus Cousins, perhaps the most perplexing basketball player in the world (at least, right up there with the enigmatic Rajon Rondos and Metta World Peaces) – isn’t that bad.

But, once Dwight Howard turns into “Dwightmare,” you’re in deep trouble. And, for the fabled Los Angeles Lakers, this 2012-13 NBA season has been nightmarish, pathetic, embarrassing, atrocious, and mind-boggling all at the same time. It has been a circus of inconsistency and mismatched parts, far from the sky-high expectations thrust upon the organization when Howard arrived at its doorstep this summer.

After falling to the well-oiled Miami “LeBrons” on national television this past weekend, the Los Angeles Lakers are clinging to a 24-28 overall record, which places them behind the Milwaukee Bucks, Atlanta Hawks, and Utah Jazz in the win-loss column. Yes, even the Utah Jazz. If the season were to end today, Kobe Bryant and what’s left of his big-name frontcourt weapons wouldn’t even be left sniffing the postseason fragrance – the undesirable chance to bow out at the hands of the impressive Oklahoma City Thunder wouldn’t even be theirs to claim.

As of now, the fans can express their sorrows and be sure to expect to #CountOnAnEarlyOffseason, to use Kobe Bryant’s signature hashtag.

Brief side note: Is there one side of Steve Nash’s psyche that isn’t exactly mourning his team’s current state of affairs, considering that he would almost certainly fall prey to a myriad of Russell Westbrook highlights in the first round? Closing out an illustrious career and guarding Westbrook for an entire series shouldn’t coincide, if you can help it. Steal. Alley-oop. Steal. Blow-by. Dunk.

The explosive shows of athleticism could and would prove to be a terrifying sight for an elder statesman who couldn’t even defend the league’s slowest guards about ten years ago, let alone in the twilight of his career. Steal. Blow-by. Dunk. We’ve reached the point where the Los Angeles Lakers can’t hang with a team from Oklahoma City, small-market personified. But, let’s put that aside.

Everything about the Lakers now seems forced – the collusion of talented pieces, Coach Mike D’Antoni’s signature offensive imprint, Howard’s superficial smiles, Bryant’s shot selection, Pau Gasol’s desire to actively participate. There’s no continuity, and injuries have unfortunately played a role.

Nash went down early on and couldn’t contribute until two months into the season. Gasol had been in and out of the ever-changing rotation – as well as the starting lineup, when he was healthy – and is now projected to sit out for a long, long while with a foot injury.

Oft-criticized for his pain threshold by all sorts of pundits, Dwight Howard hasn’t had much success in recovering from offseason back surgery and playing through a torn labrum in his right shoulder – a reality that has only compounded the team’s disturbing lack of offensive rhythm and abundance of lethargic defensive showings.

Don’t let the statistics fool you, for they are misleading; Dwight Howard isn’t anywhere near his optimal vertical explosiveness, lateral quickness, and midseason stamina level. This 2012-13 version is a remix-gone-wrong of “unable to dunk” and “rotating over a step too late.” Heck, even the perennial spark plug, Jordan Hill, is sidelined.

But the Lakers’ struggles aren’t all injury-induced, so don’t let that narrative tell the whole story. The “injury bug” has had particularly devastating consequences in Los Angeles this winter, but there’s much more to the disheartening puzzle. Coach D’Antoni hasn’t experienced sustained levels of comfort with any one particular lineup, and constant experimentation with his players has taken the place of rotational consistency, a must for the most successful teams in the league. For instance, Howard, Pau Gasol (pre-injury), World Peace (it’s still weird to write), Hill (pre-injury), Antawn Jamison, Devin Ebanks, Robert Sacre, and Earl Clark have all been plugged into a frontcourt slot at some point or another this season. Even Kobe Bryant, a shooting guard first and foremost, has been used as the feature forward surrounded by a whole host of shooters – a la Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and Kevin Durant.

Night in and night out, nobody can form anything close to a solid guess with regard to who will play at the start of the fourth quarter or toward the end of the first half. A rotation guy could be struck with a DNP-Coach’s Decision one game, before being named a starter for the next.

The Los Angeles Lakers are in a perpetual state of flux, and even past certainties aren’t so crystal clear anymore. Kobe Bryant – one of the game’s most notorious hoisters year in and year out, as he judiciously climbs the all-time FGA rankings – can’t even decide whether he needs to shoot or pass in order for the wins to start piling up. One Sunday afternoon in Toronto, Bryant will heave contested midrange jumper after contested midrange jumper en route to a surefire game-high in field goal attempts. Then, one Friday night in Los Angeles, Bryant will reverse course without warning, forgoing his typical menu of fall-aways and contested chucks for a delicious appetite of precise bounce passes to a rolling Gasol and timely kick-outs to an all-too-eager Metta World Peace.

Entering each and every NBA season, one of the only certainties is Kobe Bryant shooting, shooting, shooting – and prompting the daily cries of selfishness, stubbornness, hubris. In 2012-13, even shooting, shooting, shooting isn’t so set in stone. Don’t get me wrong, the “Black Mamba” still has a venomous bite. But, where’s it coming from nowadays? Nobody knows.

When I watch this year’s rendition of the storied franchise, I’m almost saddened by the product on the floor – or what’s left in the heap of purple and gold rubble. And, I’m a diehard Boston Celtics fan. I see an unsure Kobe Bryant joined by an equally unsure Steve Nash, two transcendent icons of this young century who aren’t capable of letting the game come to them anymore because they’re stepping into uncharted, unprecedented territory.

I see a shell of Dwight Howard’s former self. What was once an imposing presence capable of batting away shot attempts like they personally insulted his mother is now nothing more than a distant memory at the glitzy Amway Center. I see a hobbled, bumbling former superstar who can’t quite cope with his elite athletic ability being stripped from him for the first time in his basketball career, by a busted back and bum shoulder. And, I see Pau Gasol – visibly frustrated that his trade value took a fatal hit when the plantar fascia tore in two – in a tailored suit and fancy tie.

Even as a Celtics fan with ulterior motives, I see an unrelenting saga – a “Dwightmare” – and I don’t like it one tiny bit.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *