The Top 10 NBA Players Under The Most Pressure Next Year, Part 2

By: 08.14.12
Dwight Howard

Dwight Howard (design. Ryan Hurst)

It was inevitable after the Lakers got Dwight they would rocket to the top of this list. In fact, I’d written some of this top 10 before the trade and basically had to trash the whole thing because so many teams were directly affected by the trade’s reverberations across the league. Right now, on paper, the Los Angeles Lakers might have more talent then even the defending champion Miami Heat and their Big Three. That’s because they just picked up the one guy that perfectly fits into their (feels like 2004) squad of past-their-prime All-Stars and MVPs.

Just picture walking onto the court and having to matchup against Steve Nash at the point (a two-time MVP just five years ago), Kobe Bryant (a five-time champion and MVP in 2008 who is – sorry Jerry – the best off guard not named Jordan in NBA history), Pau Gasol (a two-time champion and four-time All-Star who almost led his Spanish National Team to an upset of the Americans in the gold medal game of this year’s Summer Olympics) and the most dominant big man in the game, Dwight Howard.

Sure, it would be easy to put all the pressure on Howard in this spot. Lord knows he deserves to be under the microscope after the way he treated the fans, coaches and executives in Orlando. Some of the comments when Dime asked readers about who has the most pressure on them entering the 2012-13 season rightfully designated Howard as either No. 1 or No. 2 behind ‘Melo, but since Howard is surrounded by other All-Stars, the pressure falls on the team. They either win the 2013 NBA title or they don’t and they’re a failure. It’s an either/or situation. Sure, they’ll still have Nash, Kobe and Pau next season and theoretically they’ll be able to sign Howard to an extension next summer (adding the bedrock for future, post-Kobe, Laker championships), but let’s be honest: if the Lakers fail to win the title this year, they will have under-performed and not lived up to their potential.

Such is life when you’ve got a dream-like NBA 2K13 All-Star roster assembled before September. Kobe Bryant was tripping all over himself for a chance to get back to the States and marvel at the squad Mitch Kupchak (and, less so, Jim Buss) put together when he was off partying with Nas over the Olympics. Steve Nash went from running a high screen-n-roll with Channing Frye and Marcin Gortat to Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard. He went from a geriatric Michael Redd and Grant Hill in his backcourt to Kobe F-ing Bryant. About the only person in this whole bizarre turn who hasn’t been getting a lot of pub and doesn’t have nearly the level of expectation as his more publicized teammates is Metta World Peace. Metta has been overshadowed during an offseason that saw them add one of the best point guards in the game AND the BEST center in the game. That’s another indication they’ll have the most pressure on their shoulders come autumn. MWP better add a couple more therapist visits before this circus season starts.

It’s not like the all-star collection of Laker starters are in their primes, either. But Nash was productive enough for a crappy Suns team last season. They were on the verge of the playoffs until the last couple weeks of the season. Gasol might be older and still (unfairly) labeled as soft, but he’s the best foreign-born player not named Dirk in the league (sorry, Marc) and his skill set is perfectly matched for Howard. Howard – as anyone that’s read the Internet over the last week is aware – brings rebounding and shot-blocking as a near-unanimous DPOY selection over the last half-decade (the only reason he lost last year was his back injury and the media enmity engendered after that ridiculous press conference where Stan Van Gundy claimed D12 had gone to management to get him fired, only to have Howard deflect reporter’s questions right after he said it). On top of all that, you have Kobe Bryant, just one of the top 10 players of all time. No big deal.

Winning an NBA Championship isn’t as easy as just assembling the parts (ask the 2004 Lakers and 2011 Heat about that), so it’s not a given the collection of talent will deliver a title. That’s where the pressure comes in. Nash has never been a favorite like this in his entire career. Those Amar’e/Nash teams were never the favorite regardless of their offensive exploits in the “SSOL” offense. Dwight was never been expected to win a title with Orlando’s three-point shooting supporting cast. Sure, Pau and Kobe have been under the magnifying glass as title favorites after capturing back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010, but this is a whole ‘nother ball game. About the only one of the Lakers stars that’s relishing the new pressure is Kobe. Kobe thrives off of pressure, and it doesn’t get any more pressure-packed than this.

It’s on Steve Nash, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard to match Kobe’s enthusiasm for the challenge, and just as importantly, it’s on Mike Brown to manage the egos of this superstar-laden team. If this Lakers team doesn’t win a title, it will be a failure, and Brown will most likely be gone. Aside from the 2011 and 2012 Heat squads (who buckled under that pressure the first year), no team has been this favored (ostensibly, at least) to win a title before the season even started. And, just in case you forgot, the Lakers’ burden is augmented further when you realize they’ll have to go through the defending Western Conference champion, Oklahoma City Thunder, the still-strong San Antonio Spurs, the one-year stronger Los Angeles Clippers, the Grizzlies, the Mavericks, the Nuggets and whatever other challenges arise in the West. After vanquishing all those teams in the West, they would then have to face off against their doppelgängers in the East, the Heat, in a Finals showdown that’s likely to set a Nielson ratings record and engorge David Stern with an uncomfortably overt tumescence in June.

If – and only if – they beat all those teams and win the 2013 Larry O’Brien trophy will their season have been a success. Anything short of a title, any slip-up along the way or dint in their armor, and the season is marked as a failure.

Pressure? What do you know about pressure?

[Notable Omissions: John Wall, Jeremy Lin, Dirk Nowitzki, Roy Hibbert, DeMarcus Cousins, Aaron Afflalo, Andrew Bogut, Stephen Curry, and Anthony Davis]

Which players do you think have the most pressure on them next season?

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