ORLANDO FL - FEBRUARY 13: Dwight Howard #12 of the Orlando Magic drives against Andrew Bynum #17 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the game at Amway Arena on February 13 2011 in Orlando Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that by downloading and or using this Photograph user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Dwight Howard is a superstar, one of the best players in the league. He is the league's best center, and the consistency of his play means that it really is no contest. The man is an absolute beast, and any team would be lucky to have him. Dwight Howard's teammates are not superstars. They aren't even stars. Jameer Nelson might be a top 10 point guard, but being top 10 at your position isn't particularly impressive as a team's 2nd best player. Good teams almost always have two players that are top 10 at their position. Great teams usually have three.
The lack of talent surrounding Dwight Howard is one of the primary reasons Howard is reportedly interested in taking his services elsewhere. He wants to win championships, and he doesn't seem too sure of that possibility when he scans the locker room for friendly faces. There aren't a lot of teams in the league that would make Dwight Howard feel comfortable making a long term commitment to. The Los Angeles Lakers are one of those teams. There aren't a lot of teams in the league with assets attractive enough to make Orlando want to do a deal. The Los Angeles Lakers are one of those teams. The logic of a trade between the two teams is overwhelming. There's just one problem.
The Lakers don't need Dwight Howard. They need his teammates.
The Lakers have their own beast of a center. Andrew Bynum is both bigger and younger than Howard, and he possesses more offensive polish as well. Howard is still, clearly, the better center, more agile, more athletic, just as strong. Howard is more consistent, in part because he's more experienced and in part because he has spent much less time in the medical ward (the fundamental reason why, no matter what, Bynum for Howard is good business for the Lakers). If the Lakers can acquire Howard for Bynum without losing any other significant pieces, it is a deal that the Lakers would be foolish to turn down. But a Bynum for Howard switch, while appealing and beneficial, does nothing to solve the problems which might derail the team's quest for a championship this season.
The Lakers win games because they have the best front court in basketball, and they have Kobe Bryant. Whether Howard is at the center of that equation or Bynum is, the equation doesn't change. But, that equation is currently broken. At 8-4, the Lakers are currently sporting a fine record, but there is a fatal flaw with this team that damn near guarantees net failure in the pursuit of a championship, unless that flaw magically corrects itself over the course of the season. It just so happens to be a flaw that could be mitigated by the same guys Dwight Howard doesn't think are good enough to help him win said championships. The Lakers need outside shooting, and the Orlando Magic have quite the stable of guys who can fill that role.
L.A. currently ranks 29th in outside shooting this season, at a ridiculously low 24%. That terrible shooting doesn't stop them from throwing the shots up, averaging 16 attempts a game. They have taken at least 10 three point shots in every game except last night's against the Jazz, and four times this season, they have failed to hit more than two of those attempts. Their three point shooting isn't bad, it's abominable.
It's also necessary. Go back to that winning equation for the Lakers. A dominant front court, and Kobe Bryant. The reason why these elements contribute to a winning equation is because they force double teams. You cant guard Kobe one on one. You can't guard Bynum one on one. You can't even guard Pau Gasol one on one if he doesn't want you to. All three of those players can be capable of demanding a double team. Those double teams result in kick outs. Those kick outs result in outside shots. It's a tried and true formula, dating back to the initiation of the three point line. The Lakers have all of the formula's boxes checked except for the last one.
You know who has that last box checked? The Orlando Magic, in a major, major way. The Magic rank 4th in the league, connecting on 40.2% of their three point shots, nearly double the success rate of the Lakers. They also take outside shots at the 2nd highest rate in the league. Put those two things together and you get a team that gets more points from behind the arc than any other in the league. The Magic have shooters at every position on the floor. Power forward Ryan Anderson connects on 41% of his eight (!!) attempts per game. Hedo Turkoglu is hitting 48% of his nearly 5 attempts per game. Jason Richardson and J.J. Reddick are at 34% and 37% of their nearly 4 attempts per game, which are not great numbers, but they are sure as hell better than just about everybody on the Lakers roster. These are small sample sizes and the Magic are due a little regression (especially Anderson and Turkoglu), but for years Orlando has designed themselves to make a high volume of outside shots created by the inside dominance of Dwight Howard.
The Lakers need some of that design in order to be successful, and that's why a trade with the Magic makes sense. Andrew Bynum for Dwight Howard straight up is a bad deal for Orlando and always has been. Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol for Howard is a bad deal for the Lakers, or at least that has been my thought process for many months. Now, if the Gasol for other Magic players part of the equation involves some of those shooters? I think the trade makes sense. Hell, for that matter, remove Howard and Bynum from the equation, and I think the trade still makes sense.
What if the Lakers traded Pau Gasol and Luke Walton for Turkoglu, Reddick, and Ryan Anderson? The Magic get to pair Gasol with Howard, and still have plenty of outside shooting in Jason and Quentin Richardson, as well as Jameer Nelson, who has been a much better shooter in his career than the 33% he's sporting this season. The Lakers throw Anderson and Turkoglu into the starting lineup, and suddenly all those double teams against Kobe or Bynum are instantly punished, with Reddick off the bench to provide support the third guard the Lakers so desperately need. Orlando gets to show Howard they are serious about building a contender around him. The Lakers get the final variables necessary to solve their equation.
The Orlando Magic and Los Angeles Lakers have been talked about as trading partners for months now. Dwight Howard (probably) wants out of Orlando, and L.A. is one of his favored destinations. The Lakers are one of the few teams with both the assets and opportunity to capture him. But trading for Howard, no matter how much of an upgrade you consider him to be over the Lakers incumbent center, still leaves L.A. a broken model. Who'd've thunk the best way to fix the model might be to ignore Howard and trade for a few of his teammates.