It might not be an overreaction to say that the 2012-13 season was the most disastrous year in Los Angeles Lakers history. Not their worst season, necessarily, but definitely their most damaging in terms of their future prospects and compared to the expectations going in.
After giving away future draft picks to acquire Steve Nash and Dwight Howard to join Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol over the summer, the expectation was that the Lakers would be an immediate title favorite. That this was going to be fun.
Instead, Nash was never fully healthy after an early injury, Howard rushed back too early from back surgery and never appeared to be himself, and then Bryant tore his Achilles right as the team started to hit its stride. Howard left in free agency after the season, while Nash and Bryant never really played meaningful basketball again, leaving the Lakers with only misery to show for their gambit.
The team’s tanking was able to mitigate the cost of that failure of a season, ensuring they kept protected first-round picks when possible and only conveyed second-rounders to the Orlando Magic, but still, the toll was steep, and the team is only just beginning to rebound from it. Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that Howard is here for a second tour of duty in purple and gold, and a resulting chance at redemption.
And while many have been skeptical of how much Howard can contribute, it maybe notable that Bryant — who feuded with Howard as much or more than anyone on the Lakers during that doomed campaign and afterwards — said during an appearance on “The Talk” that he thinks this time will be different for Howard in Los Angeles:
What do you think he has to do differently if he wants the Lakers to win this time?
“The first time we played together, the first half of the season was very tough. The second half of the season we wound up playing the best basketball of any team in the league, and then unfortunately I tore my Achilles. But I think he’s ready. He’s ready for this next time around to do whatever is necessary to help the team be successful, and I think he’ll do it.”
Howard will have a lot of motivation to do so, because if he doesn’t, this might be his final chance to prove he can contribute to a winning basketball team. The Lakers have also taken precautions to protect themselves if this time around with Howard isn’t different, as he’s on a non-guaranteed contract that allows the team to cut him at any point with no salary cap consequences if he’s not producing.
To his credit, Howard has said all the right things so far, and seems to know he has to prove that this time around will be a true fresh start with his actions. And if he focuses on the right things — screening, rolling and defense — like he’s said he plans to, there is world where he can help this team.
Will that be enough to make up for his disastrous first season in Los Angeles? No, but it also doesn’t need to be. Howard just needs to help this team be better than his prior Lakers squad was. And if he can’t, he won’t be around long.