Dwight Howard, Chris Paul Or Neither: A Look At The Lakers' Strategic Dilemma

It's a strange thing to contemplate but no less true for its strangeness: Andrew Bynum might have already played his last game as a Laker. By the time his five-game suspension ends, he could be learning a new playbook in New Orleans or adjusting to life with Stan Van Gundy in his ear. Bynum, of course, is forever in the middle of all significant trade rumors involving the Lake Show, and at the moment we've got a couple monsters. Mitch Kupchak has already spoken with the Hornets about a possible deal for Chris Paul. Unless Dwight Howard shocks everyone and signs an extension with the Magic, Mitch will soon be on the phone to Orlando as well. If either of these trades actually happens, Drew (as the only proven Laker who wasn't born during the Civil War) will be the choice asset that gets it done.

If you can resist getting swept up in all this, you're a more sober-minded person than I. Howard and Paul are among the best ever at their positions. The former would join Mikan, Wilt, Kareem and Shaq in the super-elite Laker big-man club. The latter plays point guard better than anyone since number 32. And neither is even 27 years old yet so for once we could start to imagine how the franchise intends to compete in a post-Kobe world.

But which of these guys would you choose? Forget for a second the reports about the Lakers hoping to acquire both. Assuming the Lakers could land one of them but not both, which one should the main target? Or just maybe.... they shouldn't be chasing either?

Last night the SS&R pimp crew met at our usual spot (a Yoshinoya in Van Nuys) to swap informed opinions on this question. Read what each of us thinks after the jump and let us know what you're thinking as well. This is a big issue that will swing the future of the Lakers, and that future could be here before you know it.

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Ben Rosales: #teamdwight

Dwight Howard should be the Lakers' primary focus, if only because he is a safer option and foundation to build upon. While Howard has been all but indestructible these last few years, the meniscus tear Paul suffered during the ‘09-‘10 season evokes worrisome comparisons with Brandon Roy and how debilitating that kind of injury could be in the long-term. A trade of Bynum and Lamar Odom for Hedo Turkoglu and Howard is a straightforward, no frills upgrade for the Lakers, who would become a suffocating defensive team with Howard patrolling the middle and Mike Brown designing the scheme. It's also not outlandish to say that Howard would fit nicely in Brown's San Antonio-inspired offense, which would put Dwight on his spots on the block and is something he could definitely thrive in, especially with better offensive options around him than in Orlando. A Kobe/Howard pick-and-roll? Combining the NBA's best roll man (per PPP) with Kobe coming off a pick? Scary stuff. Moreover, Howard himself softens the impact of losing Odom through the simple act of staying upright and playing more minutes than Bynum, making Odom's presence as a super-sub somewhat superfluous. Even Turkoglu, who would be hoist upon the Lakers to help Orlando clear cap space, has some utility, as he would become the Lakers' best perimeter shooter and is a capable pick-and-roll operator who can manage Mike Brown's more traditional offense. The Lakers would still have to sign at least two players to fill the rotation in the frontcourt, but there are a number of serviceable big men likely available in free agency and the bar set for them -- stay upright for 10-15 minutes a night and don't be a disaster -- is pretty low. The Lakers were connected to Josh McRoberts by ESPNLA the other day, and while he might command part of the mini MLE, he would be a solid pickup. Same with Troy Murphy or Jason Smith at the four or Joel Przybilla, Aaron Gray, Jeff Foster, Alexis Ajinca, or even Kwame at the five. All would be fine for the Lakers' purposes as they move forward with a more standard frontcourt rotation. Altogether, the benefit of this trade is that there is relatively little risk involved. Howard has shown that he is a dominant player, is still only 25 years old - think on that for second - and he would provide a rock solid building block for the future.

Paul, on the other hand, has a number of red flags. There is no question that if he was still the same player from ‘07-‘08, we wouldn't even be discussing this, but Paul's overall efficiency numbers have since dropped from "transcendent and historic" to "very, very good." Three to four years down the road, the Lakers could be severely disadvantaged if Paul requires microfracture surgery or similar to repair his knees, and while the Lakers likely won't be title contenders then unless they overhaul more of their core, part of the reason for making a move like this is to position the Lakers not only to win in the short-term, but provide a basis around which the Lakers can retool for their next title run. This noted, the Lakers' clearest need for years definitely has been at point guard, and Brown's offense requires a more traditional one orchestrating the offense. I don't think it's a stretch to say that even a diminished Paul could have a bit of a career renaissance with stellar offensive options such as Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol alongside him. The Lakers could also fill the hole in the frontcourt by taking on the contract of Emeka Okafor, who is an above average defensive player. As a result, the defense will likely be as sturdy as ever, especially with Paul, an All-Defense performer, providing a salve for the Lakers' long-standing weakness against scoring point guards. The offense will also obviously benefit from having the league's best backcourt, and Paul dishing to him probably extends Kobe's career by a few years. The Lakers would presumably fill the spots in the frontcourt same as in the Howard scenario.

The wrong choice here, however, IMHO, is going for neither. It's true that this is still a championship core and they're very much in the title chase. That said, you don't get these opportunities to upgrade in such a dramatic fashion in the middle of a team's title window, and it's fair to say that there won't be another opportunity to do so. Both improve the team in the short-term, and with a new coach coming in, there's no better time to retool the roster, even with the shorter training camp and regular season. I'm more inclined towards the Howard trade because I think Howard is a safer piece to build around - he proved in Orlando that he can make a bunch of poor defenders into a top 10 defense on his lonesome, he's never had injury troubles, and again, he's a top five player at age 25. There's still room for improvement, mind-boggling as that is. As for Paul, he requires more work to build a roster around him and there's always the risk of his knee issues resurfacing, but when it comes down to it, he's a top five player who has never had the opportunity to play with the type of offensive players he'll have as teammates in L.A. In both trades, the Lakers can fill the holes in the frontcourt rotation, and it wouldn't be remiss to say that the Lakers would be a pretty quality location after such a trade in any case. The Lakers have a chance to change their fortunes in a dramatic fashion after last season's playoff debacle, and it behooves them to take advantage of it.

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WildYams: #teamdwight

Obviously adding either Dwight Howard or Chris Paul to the Lakers would be a slam dunk (provided the Lakers don't have to loot the store to get either guy), and I even think it's not too terribly remote to think the Lakers could wind up getting BOTH players, although that would probably require both Dwight and CP3 to basically demand being traded to LA. But since we're not talking about what it might take to get both and are instead talking about which of the two should the Lakers focus most of their efforts on, in my opinion the Lakers should make Dwight Howard their top priority.

My reasoning for the Lakers going after Howard instead of Paul is not necessarily related to me thinking Howard is a better player than Paul, however, but is more about what the Lakers would most likely still have left on the team after acquiring either player. Since the Hornets have Emeka Okafor at center, the odds are they would not be interested in getting Andrew Bynum in exchange for Paul, even if Lamar Odom came as part of the package. No, my guess is they'd be more interested in a deal centered around Pau Gasol (possibly also with Odom included), and this would be too much for the Lakers to give up, I think, as it would leave L.A. with a totally depleted front line. Orlando, on the other hand, would be out a center, and therefore probably would be far more willing to take Bynum (and probably Odom) in return for Howard. This would leave the Lakers with Dwight and Pau up front to go along with Kobe, Artest, Barnes, Fisher, etc.

I think we're all pretty well aware of what both Dwight Howard and Chris Paul could bring to the Lakers overall, and can easily see why the Lakers would want either player. I just think that if you're gonna have to give up Pau Gasol and possibly Odom to get Paul, that's only worthwhile if you can simultaneously land Dwight Howard in a trade for Bynum (which definitely is a longshot, but both trades probably could be worked if both Paul and Howard demanded that their teams deal them to the Lakers). So there you go, my vote is for Dwight Howard.

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Actuarially Sound: #teamdwight

My vote would be for Dwight Howard.

My sincerest apologies to Chris Paul, but you sir are no Dwight Howard. I wrote last year why Dwight Howard should have been the MVP over Derrick Rose. It only makes sense that I feel the Lakers' primary focus should be to obtain the league's best player when they have a real opportunity to do so.

"Defense wins championships" is a phrase we're all too familiar with and no player in the league has the defensive impact that Howard does. There are quite a few lock-down defenders in the league but most of the "locking down" pertains to the individual they are guarding. Howard on the other hand locks down the entire opposition. The Magic have been in the top three in defensive efficiency in each of the last three years, a remarkable feat considering they have no above-average defender outside of Howard. Everyone in the league recognizes this and that is why he is the reigning three-time Defensive Player of the Year.

What people fail to recognize is how much he contributes on offense. Two years ago the Orlando Magic had a higher offensive efficiency than our mighty world champion Lakers. Howard demands a double team more than any other player in the league and showed significant growth with his post moves last year. Surround him with players that can make an open shot and he will test any defense. He has carried Orlando to an NBA Finals and made them a perennial title contender without a teammate anywhere close to the caliber of Kobe Bryant or Pau Gasol, let alone both.

The biggest reason to get Howard though is that he is simply the perfect cornerstone on which to build a franchise. He is dominant on both ends of floor, he has a clean and marketable image, and he shows up every day to work. That last part is key, especially compared with the injury history of one Andrew Bynum. Howard missed four games last season (two due to suspensions and two due to the flu) and those four games were more than he missed in his first six seasons combined. He has missed a grand total of seven games in seven seasons. The bigger a player is the more games they will likely miss due to wear and tear on the body. Howard bucks that trend. He truly is Superman.

Howard and a bunch of role players will always be a playoff team. Give him a halfway decent cast and they will be a title contender. Give him teammates like Kobe and Pau Gasol and titles are almost certain to follow. That's why Dwight Howard should be Lakers' primary focus.

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Saurav Das - #teamcp3

My vote would be for Chris Paul. It seems quickly forgotten how good Chris Paul can be - only a few years ago he was in MVP contention with Kobe and LeBron. The man is the ultimate point guard, something the Lakers have not had since the days of Magic. With the abandonment of the Triangle and the aging of Kobe, the Lakers need a new ball-handler and a stopgap option won't cut it. I also think the issue with Chris Paul's knee is overblown. The inconsistency in his play seemed due to lethargy at having to play on a team that had gone backwards over the past few seasons and had no chance of any serious accomplishment. The knee issues were an easy out. With the Lakers, there would be no excuse for such lethargy.

That aside, as great as Dwight Howard is, we currently have a premier frontline, still arguably the best in the league and as the colloquialism goes, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. I would love to have Dwight, as he's likely a better long-term option than Paul, but the Lakers are still in a win-now position in the latter years of Kobe's career, and I believe bringing in Paul to take over primary ball-handling responsibilities and preserve Kobe's legs will be a greater benefit to that end; not to mention his addition bringing some desperately-needed shooting ability from deep. Plus, I haven't entirely lost faith in Bynum's ability to stay healthy and achieve has potential... some day.

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C.A. Clark: #teamneither

I vote for neither. Fundamentally, it is pretty stupid to be against the acquisition of either Chris Paul or Dwight Howard. Both players are game-changers in different ways. Howard does it by being a one-man wrecking crew on defense, and Paul does it by orchestrating an offense better that Maria Von Trapp performs The Lonely Goatherd. They are both amazing players, and the Lakers would be lucky to have either one on their team, even if it cost a couple big pieces to make the deal happen. So why the nay vote? Because of the significance a move for either player would make.

Put simply, I'm not ready to give up on this era of team just yet. This team, this current team with a core of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom, is one year removed from being a two-time champion. Yes, they flamed out in embarrassing fashion last year, and the nature of that flame out hints at the possibility of this team having outlived their shelf life. But I think back to that blissful stretch of games last season, when the Lakers went 17-1 with a dominant defense and an efficient offense down the stretch. For those 18 games, we saw the Lakers as they intended to be seen. That wasn't some fluke of scheduling, or some random streak of luck. For nearly a quarter of a season ,including some of their most difficult stretches of schedule on paper, the Lakers played as a cohesive unit, and dominated the league.

Where did that team go? How is it that the same group of guys got run out of the building four straight times in the second round of the playoffs? The answers to those questions remain a mystery. Maybe the team chemistry really did go south. Maybe the complacency of two straight titles killed the Lakers' hunger. Maybe three straight seasons of 100+ games caught up with an aging team and they ran out of gas. Maybe God decided to grace Dirk Nowitzki with a run for the ages (a circumstance, by the way, that makes me smile but for the necessity of the Lakers having been defeated so badly to accommodate it). Maybe all those factors at once. Or maybe all the doomsday statements that have emanated from that second-round sweep are true. Maybe the Lakers are too old, too unathletic, too et cetera, et cetera. All I know is, for 18 games the Lakers' athleticism, defensive cohesion and collective willpower were more than enough to seemingly strike fear in everybody's hearts once again. Now this team is well-rested and made hungry by the fact they are not the ones with the target of defending champ on their back.

So why not improve their chances even more by obtaining another NBA superstar? Because you have to field a full team of players, and the Lakers are already extremely top heavy. Outside of the core of Bryant, Bynum, Odom and Gasol, there isn't a single player on this roster that you can be excited about taking the court. And while either Chris Paul or Dwight Howard would be an awesome addition, there's no way either one can be had without losing two of those four players, meaning the Lakers would be reduced to a Big Three of their own. A move for Paul or Howard is a move for the future, and a damn smart one. But I think a move for either player, unless it is an incredibly advantageous move for the Lakers, would make a championship this season less likely. A veteran squad like the Lakers cannot just reinvent itself completely on the fly. As it is, with Phil Jackson and the Triangle offense already out of town, that ship might already have sailed, but if the team pulls the trigger on some kind of two-for-one deal, leaving the Lakers with three stars and a bunch of the same veterans to fill in the gaps, all while trying to learn new offensive and defensive systems on the fly in a shortened season? It just seems like asking too much.

Adding Howard or Paul might seem like a no-brainer, especially from a business perspective. With either player, the future is bright. But there are times when you just have to bite the bullet and say "To hell with the future." For me, this is one of those times. Kobe Bryant makes it one of those times. Howard and Paul are amazing, but neither one will end up with the legacy that Kobe Bryant already has, and he deserves every chance to improve upon that legacy. When Kobe Bryant is on your team, there are no smart business moves to be made. The only thing you should be thinking about is how to make one last score.

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Dexter Fishmore - #teamdwight

Heading into this exercise I thought trading for Dwight would be uncontroversially the Lakers' best move. I still think it's the right strategy but my certainty has been dented by the fine points made in favor of CP3 and standing pat. Whatever happens, I won't be outraged.

The only thing I'd add to the exhaustive discussion above is that I'm more bullish on the Kobe-Dwight chemistry than the Kobe-CP3 chemistry. Kobe has loads of experience playing alongside a dominating post man but none (outside of the Olympics) with a point guard who needs the ball in his hands. You know those Miami Heat possessions from last season when either Dwyane Wade or LeBron James would do an iso from the top of the key while the other just stands there in the corner? I could see a version of that with Kobe and Paul. Meshing his game with Dwight's would be more frictionless.

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wondahbap - #teamdwight

Dwight Howard, easily. I think the basketball reasons are fairly obvious, and I'm sure one of our esteemed writers will explain this in fine detail, so I'll leave it to them. All on-court reasons aside, I think Dwight WILL be a Laker because it's just too good for business. It's my thinking that the extend and trade exception that the owners supposedly "conceded" at the last minute really had nothing to do with giving back to the players once the union disclaimed. I believe the sign and trade exception was kept to get Dwight to LA as fast as possible.

I won't believe for a second that the NBA is looking forward to anymore 'Melo situations. Seriously, we just suffered through a 149-day lockout because the owners were intent on taking control from the players. Months of hammering, threats, and ultimatums. If LeBron's decision fiasco was the kick starter to the owners desire to limit franchise player movement, then the "'Melo-Drama" in Denver had to be the straw that broke the camel's back. No way the owners, who were so intent on crushing the players during the lockout, wanted to just hand over the very tool the players started using to hold franchises hostage.

So why did they keep the extend-and-trade? Could be because it allowed the Lakers to go along with the raised luxury tax rule and revenue sharing. You think the Buss family cares if Sacramento's owners starve their franchise to the bone? There were widespread rumors of division between the owners, and what other reason could there be besides how to divide money, which the Lakers have tons of. Very simply, the other teams wanted the Lakers to pay more for what they have. To share the wealth. None of the new tax rules, or revenue sharing plans affect a team more than the Lakers, who can and will always spend. If I'm Dr. Buss, I'm steaming mad that I'd have to share my money with the poorer teams. With deep pockets (that just got a hell of a lot deeper with their new TV deal), the Lakers owe it to their fan base to spend. They will, and the other teams like the Kings might profit more off the Lakers than themselves. The NBA is a lot more popular when the Lakers do well. So, if the Lakers were going to be forced to pay out more money, damn straight they want to be sure they can grab super-star free agents when they have a chance to...like now.

Other than the fact that Dwight is a beast, why else would the Lakers want D12? They have a 25 year/$5 billion TV deal to fulfill with Time Warner. Kobe's 15 seasons in and winding down just as this deal kicks in. It's time for the Lakers to look towards the future. To return a very large investment. Excluding Michael Jordan, the Lakers have always had the biggest star in the sport. Mikan, Jerry, Wilt, Kareem, Magic, Shaq, and Kobe. No disrespect to Bynum, but I think we'd all agree that his star will never be as big as what it takes to have the #1 job in the NBA on the league's glitziest team.

Imagine Kobe suffers a major injury (God forbid). What then? I want you to imagine what this team looks like as presently constructed without Kobe. Now imagine what it would look like if Dwight were here and Kobe went down. No disrespect to Andrew, but I'm sure you are seeing two very different pictures, and the latter seems much more promising. No doubt the Lakers have also considered this, especially because it means millions of dollars. Even if Kobe stays relatively healthy until it's time for him to retire, eventually he has to retire. As Chuck would say: "Father Time is undefeated." The Lakers can't just assume that the next superstar will be standing right in line when the time comes for Kobe to say bye-bye. You jump on these opportunities when you can. They've already missed the boat on LeBron because of timing. You probably just read that last statement and threw up in your mouth, thinking I'm crazy. But if you believe for a second that the Lakers didn't have some serious, very quiet consideration into that possibility, you're lying to yourself (they jettisoned Shaq's lazy ass because they could). Kobe was/is too good, and definitely too powerful for that to ever be more than a wishful thinking. Dwight? It's good for Kobe and the timing is right.

What the Lakers have isn't broken, and Andrew Bynum is a fine player - but superstar, he's not. And we know Pau can't carry the Lakers on or off the floor. Superman Redux could. Nothing against Drew. I love his game, and think he'll only improve. If he remains a Laker, I'll be more than happy, but this is Dwight freakin' Howard we're talking about. Dwight affects a very large bottom line that Andrew Bynum may never be able to replicate. Not only does his presence on the court make this an obvious move, but business dictates it. I'm 100% positive in my belief that Dwight will be a Laker within one week.

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