The L.A. Lakers traded for two perennial All-Stars in the summer. The team is paying each a lot of money. The team is struggling mightily. Both new additions have dealt with injuries this season. In an embarrassing loss to the Celtics on Thursday, each scored nine points in about 28 minutes, and left no (positive) imprint on the game.
One of them, Dwight Howard, is taking untold levels of blame these days. The other, Steve Nash, is skating on by with nary a finger wag directed his way.
Howard was supposed to have the bigger impact on the Lakers this season, and for good reason: he was replacing Andrew Bynum, himself an All-Star. Howard also gets paid more, is much younger and is playing for a multi-year deal. Nash signed his multi-year deal in the summer sign-and-trade, and it'll probably be his last contract in the NBA.
Nash missed 24 of the Lakers' games this season with an injury that initially had him listed day-to-day. And not once did his teammates call him out in the media. Is it because he's played through a lot over his career? Nash knows back injuries: he's suffered chronic back pain for a decade, and in Phoenix found a way to manage it enough to let him play more than 70 games every season. (The exception is last season, where he played 62 of the lockout-induced 66 games.) So does he get a benefit of the doubt based on historical resilience?
Howard missed a grand total of seven games through his first seven seasons in the league, and some of those were due to suspension. Last season, back surgery -- back surgery -- knocked him out in the stretch run. He was supposed to be back in action in December or January. Howard was ready opening night. Well, "ready." He's struggled this season, claiming that his back still isn't right. On top of that, he tore his labrum. He's missed some games to let it recover, but has also tried to play through it. Contrary to what many folks might believe, he's only missed six games this season.
But he gets no benefit of the doubt.
He sat out three games prior to Thursday's Celtics match-up. In that span, Pau Gasol aggravated his existing foot injury, and he'll be out at least six weeks. So when one player aggravates an injury seriously enough to be ruled out for a long period of time, the only solution is to pressure another injured player to try to battle through it and get on the court, no matter how ineffective he'll be and how great the risk of aggravating the injury may be. Sound logic.
And if you don't think the Lakers -- not the front office or whatever, but actual Lakers -- pressured Dwight to get back on the court ...
Steve Nash on Dwight: "I think everyone has got to play through some pain in this league"— Mark Medina (@MedinaLakersNBA) February 7, 2013
The guy who has missed nearly half of the season and didn't have to deal with any of his teammates publicly commenting on whether he should play is hinting to us that Dwight should be playing. Meanwhile, this is what the coach is telling the media, according to Yahoo!'s Adrian Wojnarowski:
D'Antoni made sure to tell everyone Howard had been medically cleared to play in each of the three games he missed recently, and he sounded minimally sympathetic toward Howard's endurance of pain on Thursday night.
Man, even the coach has missed games due to injury this season! To baldly leak out that information is done with one purpose: make Howard look soft and feel pressure to keep playing even though he obviously cannot play well enough to significantly help the Lakers right now.
Kobe's a different animal. He's one of the five most battle-tested players in the league (with Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, Paul Pierce and Dirk Nowitzki). He's played through innumerable injuries, and hasn't missed a game this season. And frankly, we all know he's a jerk who has no filter. He's called out Shaq, Pau, Bynum and Dwight. And he might be the one athlete who can get away with calling everyone else lazy, because chances are that he really does work harder than everyone else. But D'Antoni? He can't get away with that. He's showing his dark side once again, and at this point Jerry Colangelo shouldn't let him within a mile of the USA Basketball head coach job.
And Nash? The man playing as poorly as Howard this season, the man having as disappointing a season as any Laker, the man who in his 26 games has led L.A. to a masterful 11-15 record -- not only does he not get one half of one ounce of public blame for this mess, but he gets a free pass on calling out his obviously injured teammate?
We've been told Nash was the classiest star in the NBA for a decade now. I think we may have been fed lies. I don't come to lionize Howard, whose addiction to making everyone like him is ironically doing the opposite. But if we're going to tear down Dwight, when does Saint Nash get a little of that action?