"We've been very consistent. We're not trading Dwight Howard. ... He will not be traded, and there's nothing that anybody can do today to call me today and ask me, 'Would you do this?' and get a positive result."
-- Mitch Kupchak, Lakers GM
So here we are: Another trade deadline come and gone.
And Dwight Howard is still in a purple and gold uniform. Still the bane of Lakerwood's current existence. Still the biggest enigma (both good and bad) in the NBA.
But now that it has been confirmed, now that Kupchak kept true to his words (remember the vote of confidence the Lakers publicly gave Mike Brown the day before they fired him?), now that Dwight is going to be with the Lakers for the short-long haul, what does he need to do (aka change) to make this work -- for both his basketball future and for the organization -- while the ghosts of George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O'Neal haunt him in Los Angeles?
First -- and Howard kinda began this on Wednesday night when he played arguably his best game as a Laker against Boston -- he simply needs to stop smiling. If Dwight Howard starts there, just does that one simple yet seemingly impossible thing, everything else might begin to fall into place.
This is no longer a game. And although at times it seems literally that "a game" is all it is to Howard, he has to make us (fans, haters, the public at large, etc.) believe that he is taking his profession seriously. He has to make us believe, persuade us, that this right here, this right now, this defining moment in his life, is no longer a game to him. The first step in doing that is to wipe that Bobby McFerrin-inspired smile off of his face. In games, in practice, in interviews, in public. From now until the season ends.
From there, every stigma that has been placed on him since he stepped off the plane at LAX will begin to dissolve. Immaturity, discontent, aloofness, etc., all will begin to remove themselves from the Dwight Howard narrative. At least until July. When he can either officially opt out of being a Laker or the Lakers can opt out on him.
"Freed from the distractions he caused in Orlando," the deck read in the SLAM cover story on Howard to open this season. "Dwight Howard means serious business as a Laker." Yeah, show business.
Which is the second annoyance that needs to stop. Beyond the smiling, exists jovial and childlike behavior that has led thousands (and that number continues to grow) to come to the conclusion that Howard is in it for the show and nothing else. Basketball is his sidebar. And if he has to use the game to become a B-lister in Hollywood, then his mission would be accomplished.
There was a glimpse of what life could be like the rest of the season Tuesday night with his fully engaged, energetic and often intense 30-minute performance as he made 24 points, with 12 rebounds (7 offensive) and 1 blocked shot (and he said that the rest he got over the All-Star break "helped"). But there's still so much doubt surrounding, and about, Howard that Meryl Streep and Viola Davis couldn't act their way out of it.
Ronda Rousey, UFC goddess of the moment, said in a recent interview that she "liked proving people wrong more than proving people right." If there's nothing else Dwight Howard takes to heart for the rest of this season, that frame of thought should be it.
His approach to everything that is basketball needs to be married to that Tao. Simply because what he has been doing this entire season is proving people right. Yet he has acted as though he's above all that is being said about him, which began taking a hairpin turn the minute he started exposing who he really was during his contract negotiations his last season-and-a-half in Orlando.
By droves his fan base shrank and people began to fall less and less in love with him and fall less and less for his BS. Name-calling him: "DeLite" and "DeFlight," not in the positive sense. Not even giving him the benefit of doubt while he battles through recovering from back surgery and a severe shoulder injury that has affected his play this season.
Last year he began to expose himself for not just what he really was but who he really is. And now that everyone knows, he has taken the first half of this NBA season to act like he really doesn't know (or care) what the people are saying about him -- and how "right" they actually are.
Prove us wrong, Dwight! Prove Kobe wrong, prove Shaq wrong, prove me wrong. Prove everyone who knew that you were not going to be the answer the Lakers needed, wrong. Do a LeBron, take the hate personal. Get mad or something. Rip the rim from the backboard, get an unnecessary technical foul to show that you care, take off that Frank Ocean headband (oh, you already did that) and walk out of a practice holding your middle finger up to the world.
Anything to make those of us whom you've proved right about our doubts about you, wrong.
"I've been taking a lot of hits this year," Howard said in an interview just after Kupchak made those comments about not trading him. "I would love to get up and hit back, but I don't think it's right for me to do that."
Uh, Dwight, that's where you would be wrong. This is the final four holes of the NBA's back nine and for the first time in your life you are in a "championship or die" scenario. You have to understand that this is not pressure, this is business.
All Dwight Howard had to do was come into this "Lakers situation" and not be Andrew Bynum. That's all. That's all the Lakers needed. For eight months, all they needed was for him to be everything Bynum wasn't, everything Bynum refused to be when he was in L.A. They needed someone to show up consistently, someone to play with a sense of purpose and urgency, someone to take the game seriously.
So far, Howard has given them none of that. But now that he knows that his basketball future -- not just in L.A. but around the league -- will be determined by what he does in the next 27 games, he might finally "act like" he knows the time to take his life and this game seriously was the minute the trade deadline ended.
All he has to do is act like this is all of the time he has left.