By Ben Golliver
The 2012-13 season has passed its midpoint and entered "countdown to the playoffs" mode, and the Lakers seem to be doing everything in their power to collectively batten down the hatches for a second-half push.
Already this week, Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak ruled out a trade of Dwight Howard before the Feb. 21 deadline and the disgruntled Pau Gasol said he would not request a trade this month despite frustrations with his playing time and coach Mike D'Antoni.
Howard is trying to do his part too, telling ESPN.com in a video interview that his "only focus" was getting the Lakers' playoff goals and that "nothing else matters at this point."
The All-Star center, set to be an unrestricted free agent this summer, dodged questions about his future and his long-term commitment to the Lakers while also defending himself against criticism that dates back to his time in Orlando.
"I'm committed to this team and us winning a championship.
"I understand what the Lakers want. I also understand right now there's no need for all the circus and for all the stuff that happened last year to start back up. I don't want it, my team doesn't need it, I don't need it. Frankly, our fans don't need it either.
"I'm not a cry baby. I didn't try to cry my way out of Orlando. That was never my intention, not what I did at all. I understand everybody thought it was that way because of what was being put out there. I'm not indecisive. I love this game. I play it because it inspires me, it inspires millions of kids around me, adults and all. I'm going to have fun while I do it."
These comments are difficult to digest. On the one hand, Howard says he's committed while on the other he continues to fail to commit in any meaningful way. On the one hand, he says he's not indecisive while on the other he is willing to enter his third consecutive summer with his future up in the air.
A lot of this is the same old song and dance from Howard. However, the comments do read somewhat differently, if only because recent circumstances leave the Lakers and Howard with more immediate problems than 2013 free agency.
First, Howard is day-to-day with a shoulder injury after missing the Lakers' last three games. Second, Gasol went down with a foot injury on Tuesday that could sideline him for a considerable period of time. Third, and most importantly, the Lakers remain 3.5 games out of the playoffs despite a three-game winning streak. If Howard and the Lakers are serious about pushing out of the playoff bubble and into the postseason, the time is now. Trying to tamp down distractions is a good start if he's that insistent on keeping his options open. That's only one small step in what will be a marathon for the Lakers over the next ten weeks.