Following Thursday's pasting at the hands of the Clippers, Kobe Bryant said this (and more), regarding the attitude of his teammates, and whether or not they care enough about winning:
"We lose by 20 or 30 points, we definitely can't be laughing and joking around," Kobe said.
Whether he was talking specifically about Dwight, I don't know. I wasn't there, but that's been the interpretation, and if nothing else dovetails with larger conversations about Dwight's effort and commitment based in part on what sort of face (literally) he presents. Is Dwight too smiley? Is he too silly? Does he look like a guy who cares?
And that, frankly, is the part I find so stupid. What people are talking about isn't the actual act of caring and commitment to the Lakers and the resurrection of this season, but of theatre. They want to see Howard "look" like he cares. Except aesthetics aren't always genuine. Howard could finish games with a scowl, knocking stuff over on the way to the locker room. He could stop smiling (not that he's doing much of that right now, anyway), or lash out. It wouldn't actually mean he cares, just that he may have better mastered the optics.
Conversely, he could be dying inside, and just not want to let it show.
Either way, we're still talking about appearances.
I do sympathize to some degree with Howard's situation. You hear endless calls for him to "just go and dominate on the defensive end," but it's not like Dwight can decide to hold teams to 80 points a night, and simply chooses not to. He's clearly not healthy, and I'm not sure is capable of the same level of play night-to-night. Nor is the cast around him all that consistent.
I also think the narrative has turned him into an easy scapegoat in a season with any number of complicating factors, which is a tough place to be. Particularly for a guy whose body isn't right.
But Dwight's hardly a victim.
Like many, I question whether Howard has the emotional maturity to thrive with the Lakers. I don't think his effort has been consistent, I do think he's been pouty. What matters isn't how much he smiles, but the product on the court, and there the results have been spotty. His engagement level ebbs and flows.
I just think the focus should get off the stuff that doesn't matter but makes good theatre.