(left) is set to be an unrestricted free agent this summer. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
By Ben Golliver
Mitch Kupchak says change will come from within for the Lakers and that a shake-up in advance of the Feb. 21 trade deadline isn't likely to happen.
The Lakers GM told Newsday that All-Star center Dwight Howard will not be traded and that coach Mike D'Antoni is not in trouble despite the team's sub-.500 record.
"We will not make a trade. We will not trade Dwight Howard. We have no intention of making a trade. It's unlikely that we'll make any trade with any of our principal players. To make another change at this time of the year being behind the eight-ball like we are, I think that would just make it more difficult. The talent is there. We have to find our way."
"We're very happy with Mike D'Antoni," Kupchak said. "I think when he took the job I think he thought Nash [fractured left leg] might be out a week or two. Not two months. Getting everybody on the same page took a little longer than expected. Not to say it's been smooth sailing, that's for sure."
L.A.'s motivation for moving Howard would come if the Lakers were convinced he would not re-sign next summer, when he's set to become an unrestricted free agent. His name surfaced as a possible trade piece in January after he expressed some frustration with D'Antoni's offensive system and his role. The Point Forward suggested at the time that the Lakers were better off playing out the season and taking their chances. Since those reports, Howard said the right things and then re-aggravated a shoulder injury, putting the trade whispers on the back burner.
The Lakers currently sit at 22-26, 10th in the Western Conference. They are 5-1 in their last six games after enduring losing streaks of six games and four games in January. Even after a coaching change, starting lineup adjustments and injuries to Howard, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol, the Lakers sit 3.5 games out of the No. 8 spot, needing to pass Houston and Portland to get into the playoff picture. Both the Rockets and Blazers have 9-9 records since Jan. 1 and Basketball-Reference projects the Lakers will finish No.9 in the West, giving them a 30.3 chance of making the playoffs.
Given how disappointing the Lakers' season has been, it makes all sorts of sense for Kupchak to decrease expectations in advance of the trade deadline. The "hang on and hope the team figures it out" is Kupchak's best play, assuming he can't generate any good offers for Gasol. You don't often hear executives speak in such clear language regarding the future of a player whose name has arisen in rumors. Given the totality of the circumstances surrounding Howard and his importance as a potential long-term building block, it's probably safe to take Kupchak at his word, even if February is prime prevarication time in the NBA.