The Dwight Howard saga has finally come it's resting place. In a trade whose finality was so transparent from the outset that it eventually became surprising again, the Orlando Magic have finally traded Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers in a four-team deal that doesn't just change the franchises involved in the deal, but the landscape of the NBA.
Let's break down the deal into team-by-team acquisitions:
Los Angeles Lakers acquire: C Dwight Howard, SF Earl Clark, PG Chris Duhon (from Orlando)
Orlando Magic acquire: SG Arron Afflalo, F Al Harrington (from Denver), F Maurice Harkless, C Nikola Vucevic (from Philadelphia), PF Josh McRoberts, G/F Christian Eyenga (from Los Angeles), Denver's first round pick (2014) and second round pick (2013), a conditional Philadelphia first round pick and a conditional first round pick (2017) and conditional second round pick (2015) from Los Angeles
Suffice to say, this deal isn't just a home run for the Lakers - it's a grand slam. In the World Series. Against the New York Yankees. The LA Lakers have somehow upgraded their center position, which was manned by the consensus second-best in the game, to the undisputed All-NBA First Teamer in Howard without giving up All-Star Pau Gasol. To put the trade into a year-long perspective, General Manager Mitch Kupchak and the much maligned VP of Player Personnel Jim Buss have transformed what amounts to Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum, Josh McRoberts, Christian Eyenga, and a handful of high draft picks into Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. Essentially, they've put together, on paper, one of the greatest starting line-ups ever assembled. The Lakers will go into the 2012-2013 season with a starting line-up that will look like a fantasy basketball roster:
PG Steve Nash
SG Kobe Bryant
SF Metta World Peace
PF Pau Gasol
C Dwight Howard
The most amazing aspect of this trade is that like many Lakers deals brokered first by former GM Jerry West and now for over a decade by the most underrated executive in the NBA in Kupchak, is that it doesn't just improve the team for the short term, but could potentially set up a personnel infrastructure for years to come.
Looking at the long term, if Howard were to commit to the Lakers, the franchise would be set for the next near decade. We've known for a while that Kobe and Pau Gasol are settling into the downside of their primes, as well as new acquisition Steve Nash nearing the age of 40. Though Howard is only one man, keep in mind that he transformed a team that had Hedo Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis and Jameer Nelson into two Eastern Conference Finalists, one of those squads going to the big dance in 2009. From here on out, the Lakers have to be looking at the summer of 2014, when Kobe, Pau and Metta World Peace all have their deals come off the Lakers cap to the tune of $57 million dollars. In fact, the only salary that LA has on their books (besides presumably Dwight' $20 million) in 2014-2015 is Steve Nash's $9.7 million dollar expiring contract. The logic has to be to tell Howard to wait until that summer when the Lakers will have between $20 and $30 million in cap room to potentially court a max free agent to play with him in Los Angeles for one of the most decorated franchises in North American professional sports. At that point, you can convince Howard that it will be his team, with an in-his-twilight Kobe at his side, to make a run at a title with another superstar. The prospects for the Lakers look especially bright for the coming season, but even better, for the next six or seven.
Looking closer at the short term, with the acquisition of Howard (and of course Nash a month earlier), the Lakers have gone from being a probable Western Conference Finalist to an extremely legitimate contender for the NBA title. LA had already significantly upgraded it's two most glaring areas of concern going into next season, that being point guard and the bench with the acquisitions of Nash, Duhon and Jamison, as well as retaining Hill. Now with Howard and miraculously keeping Pau Gasol, they certainly have the most talent in the league with four bonafide All-Stars, though two at slightly advance age, and with Nash's ball sharing and decision making, the concern of "too many cooks in the kitchen" should be justly allayed. Thus, offensively, the only real stumbling block could be if Mike Brown can construct an effective system to take advantage of everyone's abilities.
Defensively, the Lakers' need for Howard became even more pressing with the acquisition of Nash. While Bynum is capable of being a fantastic defender (see Game 1 against Denver in the playoffs), Andrew takes defensive plays off...weeks at a time. For whatever reason, he just checks out on that part of the game for long stretches. With Howard, the concerns about the Lakers' interior defense are all answered. Now, sieves like Steve Nash, Antawn Jamison and (at times) Kobe Bryant won't have as much pressure on their perimeter defense when they know that a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, and unarguably the best defensive player in the game is guarding the rim behind them. What's been lost in this whole "Dwightmare" is that Howard is still an extraordinary, top five player in the world. Andrew Bynum is by no means a scrub, but at his best and certainly with his role on this Lakers team, he's nothing close to D12. Yes, there are concerns about Dwight's back, but I'll take that risk if the reward is the top big man in the world, rather than a guy who has had knee surgeries almost every year since coming into the league.
The most pressing question is, of course, is this team now better than the Miami Heat? Or not to mention reigning Western Conference champions, the Oklahoma City Thunder? I think it's premature to name the Lakers the presumptive favorites for the title, especially with the ever-improving young stars in OKC and LeBron playing at a level rarely seen by the NBA audience. However, when you look closely at the matchups, there's a lot to like about a Dwight/Pau combination going up against any team in the league.
For the rest of the teams in the deal, everyone seems to have come out on to besides Orlando. Philadelphia, whose offense went through excruciating stretches of ineffectiveness next year, get a scoring force in Bynum. By taking on the young center's sketchy injury history and trading away a very game Andre Iguodala, the Sixers are telling the big man that this is his team, and they'll win or lose on his all-too-frequently ambivalent shoulders. I wish the best for Drew and will sincerely miss writing about him day-in and day-out. Philly, brace yourselves. You're in for an...interesting ride,to say the least.
The already dangerous Nuggets acquire a top-30 player in Iguodala, a perfect defensive-first complement to Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler and Ty Lawson. At times last year, the Nuggets offense was surprisingly stagnant, without another facilitator on the floor besides either Andre Miller or Ty Lawson (and thus why George Karl played both 6 foot guards on the floor so many times against the Lakers). More than just his D, Iguodala provides the Nuggets with a much-needed capable play-making wing to go along with their shooters.
Out of the four teams in this blockbuster, the Magic far and away come out the losers here, and not just because they traded away an All-World player. It's not so much about the package they received, in that it isn't too disimilar to anything they'd receive from Houston, Cleveland or whatever other permutations of the deal they'd previously had constructed. However, what's vexing about this deal is that they traded away Dwight, but were unable to move any other contracts besides Jason Richardson's eminently tradeable $19 million dollars over three years (the man can still play) and Chris Duhon's $7.5 million dollar salary over two seasons. The Magic still have Glen Davis' $18 million, Quentin Richardson's $6 million and of course Hedo Turkoglu's $23 million, not to mention taking on Al Harrington's monstrous $20 million plus deal (though the current scuttlebutt is that they'll buy him out next summer, as his deal is only partially guaranteed after this year).
But the biggest problem here? This team won't be that bad. Last winter, when David Stern vetoed the Chris Paul to the Lakers deal, he did so because he didn't think it was the right basketball decision to take on veterans like Luis Scola, Lamar Odom, Kevin Martin and Goran Dragic, not only because it would prohibit their spending in the future, but also because those guys would be just good enough to be mediocre. Stern knew that New Orleans would need to get back young players, draft picks and expiring contracts, but no one good enough to prevent them from bottoming out and "winning" themselves out of the high draft lottery. Now looking towards the future, New Orleans has Anthony Davis, Eric Gordon and Austin Rivers holding down the bayou for the next ten years. One of the worst parts of the haul that the Magic got is that in criticizing Orlando, no one can really come down on David Stern anymore for vetoing the Chris Paul deal as de facto "owner" of the Hornets. He was wrong to give Dell Demps authority in the first place, but certainly not wrong to veto the deal. I feel dirty writing that.
Though there were great gains in this deal for Philadelphia and Denver, this trade was most notably the biggest "win" for the Lakers organization. I'm hardly surprised, as Dr. Buss has consistently run a franchise that prides itself on staying competitive year after year with little segue between eras of success. If this move results in a championship next season, as well as a competitive team for years after Kobe, Pau and Nash are gone, today will be one of the most significant days in Lakers history. Believe that.
November can't get here fast enough.
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