Originally posted on Fox Sports West  |  Last updated 1/7/13
This is the problem with bringing in clubhouse cancers, no matter the talent, size or potential behind the malignancy. This is why LeBron James became an even better player an NBA champion once he became a better guy. This is why the seductive power of the beautiful and the powerful is a siren song leading nowhere good if not counterbalanced by some character, some introspection, some maturity. In NBA terms, Dwight Howard is as beautiful and powerful as they come. Hes a 6-foot-1l, 265-pound force of basketball nature who, at 27 years old, is already one of the leagues two most-talented players. That alluring fact was on display this past weekend, when he tied a career high with 26 rebounds in a loss to the Denver Nuggets. But hes also every bit the cancer his ego-fueled, one-man circus in Orlando the past few years told us he was, a fact rammed down the throats of Lakers fans everywhere with Mondays New York Daily News report, attributed to a source, that Howard had to be restrained from fighting Kobe Bryant following a New Year Days loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. The beautiful and the powerful can be tempting to those of us living in the real world, a balm to our everydayness and our grounded ways. At least until they realize the sun and moon and stars do not in fact revolve around them. And then comes the hard jolt of fact: Beautiful, brilliant and powerful people can also be so self-absorbed and unmoored from the niceties of everyday life that it turns out their contempt, lack of self-awareness and destructive insouciance are their actual defining traits. That was on display this past weekend, too, with Howard. It has been on display all season long if youve known where to look. It was on display in the worst way if he really wanted to fight one of the greatest Lakers of all time after a loss. Trying to fight Kobe Bryant? We can't say for sure what happened in that locker room, but its looking a lot like Dwight Howard is a malignancy that not even Kobe Bryant can overcome, outwit or overcompensate for. This past weekend, before the reported New Years altercation with Kobe came to light, Howard first complained about friendship issues among the Lakers, as if playing Parcheesi with Pau, Kobe and Nash or organizing a group karaoke outing could fix the teams problems. Those guys on the Clippers team, they really enjoy each other off the court, and it shows, Howard told ESPN. Its something we have to do to get better. We have to play like we like each other. Even if we don't want to be friends off the court, whatever that may be, when we step in between the lines or we step in the locker room or the gym, we have to respect each other and what we bring to the table. When I read this, my jaw nearly dropped to the floor. It was a level of hypocrisy so strong it would be funny if it werent directly at odds with the Lakers desperate need to start winning, right now, today. The very thing Howard was bemoaning is one of his singular failures, but, of course, hypocrites often find in others the faults actually simmering in themselves. The Lakers are 15-18, putting them at a very underachieving 11th in the Western Conference. Forget whether the Lakers can get on a roll and earn some home-court advantage in the playoffs. Its time to start worrying about making the postseason at all. Thats a crisis, and in a crisis your leaders, your talent, your high-priced stars must be the ones to calm the troops and instill a sense of confidence. They must rally around the lesser mortals among them. They must support coaches who are certainly embattled in the hope it makes their jobs easier. But not Dwight Howard. No, thats not in his arsenal. How could it be? Hes finding out the universe does not revolve around him, that the laws of physics and reality do not in fact suspend themselves because hes not happy, so forget everyone else. Lets attack the star player instead. Lets talk about how the losing coming from a lack of friendship. Lets spread that blame around far and wide. Its the like each other comments that really tell the tale. Perhaps no one likes Dwight because the Lakers locker room revolves around the idea of championships rather than overgrown, uber-talented children playing at basketball to soothe their needy egos. Last month, when Steve Nash returned from injury to lead the Lakers to a dazzling and much-needed win over the Golden State Warriors, I stood in an ebullient Lakers locker room. They were happy. They did like each other. They heaped praise on Nash, on his return, on the win. They felt good about the future. They had won, and that was enough to bring them together for at least one night. Well, everyone but Howard. Dwight, having scored only 11 points and corralled six rebounds in the win, sat and pouted. He was surly at his locker. He didnt smile, not once, despite the much-needed sign of progress and what at the time seemed like a very good omen in Nashs debut. Even if we don't want to be friends off the court, whatever that may be . . . we have to respect each other and what we bring to the table . . . Not so much. Thats a cancer. A guy who cant root for his own teammates. A guy who cant be happy with a win because the win didnt bolster the idea it should be all about him. A guy who, a few weeks later, then goes off on those same teammates for supposedly being guilty of the very thing Dwight has made his career staple: Selfishness, loner-ism, the me-me-me-me-me-me patter of his worldview. Heres a guy who, if reports are true, has the gall to go after Kobe Bryant in Kobe Bryants locker room? Dwight got only one thing right this weekend: Teams, no matter how talented, do not win if they do not like one another, or themselves. The Heat learned that two years ago, when they collapsed under the weight of their own drama and ego and pettiness. When their own transcendent talent undercut his skills with his own issues.But that team at least made the Finals, and the Heat certainly showed us we can all improve, we are all redeemable. These Lakers look like making the playoffs could be tough, so they need that change and self-awareness to kick in soon. And while there are many reasons lack of depth, an offensive system so far that is not working, a diminished Pau Gasol, the defensive effort equal to a team of octogenarians its Dwight who represents the biggest problem. Already, the trade talks have started. Already, his siren song has led the Lakers astray. Does any of this mean Dwight Howard is a bad person? Not at all. Hes probably a very nice man. But thats not the point, just as it wasnt two years ago with LeBron James. The question for the Lakers is this: Is Dwight Howard inflicting bad things upon the people who count on him, who pay him, who gave him their loyalty, who need his help? Of course he is. As any self-absorbed, blame-everyone-but-himself star learns to, Dwight has taken his own failures and strived to discover them in those around him. Its self-preservation, you see. How else to keep believing the moon and the stars and the sun revolve around your magnificence if you have to admit youre not infallible? Warped chemistry? Bad blood? A need to root for your teammates? Hell yes, Dwight, those are the issues at play. Now, physician, heal thyself. You can follow Bill Reiter on Twitter or email him at foxsportsreiter@gmail.com.
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