Predictably Howard's flagrant 2 and ejection is drawing a lot of attention today.
What's surprising to me is that both Kobe and D'Antoni have thrown Howard under the bus instead of backing him up. Kobe said the foul/ejection was the right call, and D'Antoni said the team didn't lose much when Howard went out.
Now, I know Kobe thinks of every other human being on the face of the earth as his *****. He doesn't think anyone else plays as hard as he does, or wants to win as much as he wants to win, and he hates them for that lack of will and determination.
And I know D'Antoni is all about the offense, and about facilitating victories mostly by scoring. So if Dwight isn't doing whatever D'Antoni thinks he should be doing, then D'Antoni is going to be unhappy as well.
But I think it's pretty easy to make a fairly compelling case for Howard being angry and frustrated, and on that basis I think selling him out to the public instead of backing him up as a teammate is actually a very selfish move on both Kobe's part and D'Antoni's part. My reasoning:
1) Howard's back is still not right. Maybe it never will be, but he had major back surgery, he came back early, and he's producing. Maybe not the way people want him to, but he's out there. I don't think anyone thinks he's fully healthy, and in ways that can significantly affect his ability to play.
2) Howard is expected to do all the dirty work on defense and to be the stopper for anybody who screws up a rotation on the perimeter. It's the same job people blame Pau for: not stopping someone at the rim when somebody else got burned in the first place. So he's the last line of defense, which often makes it seems as if he's not playing effective defense even if somebody else screwed up.
3) Howard isn't the focus of the offense at all. If anything he's more of a distraction/decoy than a real offensive option. Whether that's warranted or not, it's certainly not what he's been used to, or what he expects to be in a year or two when most of the current Lakers are retired. He's not getting touches, and any player of his caliber would be frustrated by that.
4) While he's not getting touches Howard has to co-exist on a team with Kobe -- a player who is allowed to give himself the green light any time he wants. Howard needs help to get touches; Kobe can jack up 41 shots in a game, shoot a rotten percentage, and yet everyone blames the refs instead of holding Kobe accountable. If you're a dominant player/scorer, that kind of inequity is going to drive you nuts. (So nuts that Shaq left and went to Miami just to get away from the guy.)
5) I said in the game thread last night -- only minutes before Howard wiped out Faried -- that Howard needed to take someone down. Players have been driving on the Lakers with impunity because nobody on the perimeter seems to be able to stop anyone from attacking the rim. On top of that, Howard himself is getting hammered all the time, but often doesn't get the foul himself -- something that Shaq had to deal with most of his career. If the refs won't call a fair game just because you're big, you have to remind the refs of the alternative, and Howard did exactly that. He may have been frustrated, his back may have been hurting, but he needed to remind people that he should be afforded the same respect as smaller players when it comes to drawing fouls. And I think he did that.
I don't know how this plays out going forward, but the way the team reacted is an extremely bad sign. Everybody's suddenly gone right back to playing the same role they've always played, and none of that helps the team. Howard is laughing one minute and sullen the next. Kobe is aloof and hostile and dismissive. D'Antoni is either being sarcastic or blunt, and now seems to be siding with Kobe against Howard.
Bottom line for me: you do NOT sell your teammate out if they do something dumb. Whether you agree with it or not, you don't tell the press that the other player deserved what they got or were of no use to you anyway so it didn't matter if they fouled out. The fact that the star player and coach both did that when this is the guy that management has hitched their future to is a big, big problem going forward, and will probably only become more so if Howard decides well in advance of the end of the season that he doesn't want to be Kobe's ***** for the next year or two.