The criticism toward Dwight Howard has come come in all shapes and sizes.
The persistent questioning on his toughness surrounding a 10-month old surgically repaired back and aggravated labrum in his right shoulder seemed as brutal as a Kevin Garnett shove. The concerns over Howard’s long-term commitment to the Lakers comes as swiftly as a Paul Pierce jumper. The ongoing commentary whether Howard’s jovial personality is a bad thing sounds just as annoying as the Black Eyed Peas songs played at Staples Center.
Of course, Howard hasn’t done much favors in deflecting such criticism. His 16.4 points and 11.8 rebounds per game average represents his lowest marks since the 2005-06 season. Howard hasn’t said definitively whether he will resign with the Lakers this offseason. Kobe Bryant hasn’t griped so much about Howard’s smiling as he has about his mental approach to the game.
But with Thursday’s trade deadline looming, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak didn’t just stress over and over again that Howard’s not going anywhere. Kupchak defended Howard’s play and predicted it’d make for an established legacy with the Lakers.
“Dwight is our future,” Kupchak told “The Herd with Colin Cowherd” on ESPN Radio earlier Wednesday. “Kobe has one more year on his deal [this year, plus one]. That’s all I can bank on or this organization can bank on.”
“It’s hard to get talent in this league, and to have a talent like Dwight Howard, we have no intention of trading Dwight Howard. He belongs to have his name on the wall [as a retired uniform] and a statue in front of Staples at some point in time.”
The Lakers’ 113-99 victory Wednesday over the Boston Celtics featured Howard posting 24 points on 10 of 13 shooting and 12 rebounds. Plenty of that reflected his improved execution on pick-and-roll sets, his improved health and his engagement level. But it also seemed that Kupchak’s support provided a psychological boost for the embattled center.
“I’m thankful he did that,” Howard said. “I’ve been taking a lot of hits this year. I would love to get up and hit back, but I don’t think it’s right for me to do that. I’m going to continue to get healthy.”
Howard spent a good portion of All-Star weekend doing that. Even between his Adidas marketing appearances and the All-Star game itself, Howard carved out time between resting his bruised body and working with the Lakers’ training staff on various conditioning drills.
Howard has reluctantly talked about his injuries so it doesn’t come across as making excuses. But Kupchak doesn’t see it that way.
“Out of everything that’s been going around, Mitch knows what we’ve been going through this year,” Howard said. “He sees it, especially the stuff with my back. And he’s fully supported me. He understands that I’m not where I need to be physically, but he continues to push me, to motivate me to get in better shape and play better.”
“Mitch, he sees a lot of great things in me and he knows what I want to be at the end of my career,” Howard said. “He feels like this is the right place to do it. He’s always telling me to do certain things, look outside my house, look at the city. Little things like that, just to motivate me.”
Whether that support convinces Howard enough to stay remains to be seen.
Howard’s still adjusting to the dynamic with Kobe Bryant. Same thing with Mike D’Antoni’s system. Howard also doesn’t want to feel boxed in, particularly if this season goes sour.
Yet, Howard can re-sign for five years and $117.9 million with the Lakers compared to a four-year, $87.6 million deal with anyone else. He also has a GM who’s willing to go to bat for him when few others have.
“Me and Mitch have talked,” Howard said. “We’ve been in talks all year long. He told me to trust him. I trust him and will go out there every night and play as hard as I can and get a title for this team.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org