Dwight Howard is a Los Angeles Laker. The reality sinking in has been a slow, meticulous process. All of the build up for one singular moment, a moment the Lakers franchise has been chasing the shadows of for years. Superman has returned, and this is Shaq without kryptonite. The Lakers have acquired one of the most electrifying superstars to wear an NBA jersey over the last decade. Dwight freakin' Howard, ladies and gentleman. Despite all the Brooklyn talks, it was always going to be Los Angeles. In the end, losing out on Chris Paul, really, only meant cashing in on retaining Pau and adding Steve Nash. A “problem” most teams would love to have.
It's time to celebrate, time to exhale. A moment to appreciate how privileged being a fan of the purple and gold is. Transitioning to the next superstar who will carry the Lakers into a new generation. It's times like these that keep the Lakers as the pulse of Southern California. Memories to share for a lifetime. Adding an other worldly talent like Dwight Howard would turn most teams' worlds upside down, yet the Lakers are approaching it methodically. Acting as if they've been here before, because unlike most franchises, they have. There is no need to be modest, Dwight Howard is -that- good. His talents transcend anything Andrew Bynum could ever dream of, and that's coming from a staunch Bynum supporter. At that, I wish Andrew Bynum the best in Philadelphia and hope that he flourishes beyond anyone's anticipation when he hits the hardwood in red, white, and blue. However, there is a reason he isn't wearing those same colors for Team USA, and the knee can be cited up and down, but it's deeper than that.
It was Andrew Bynum's opportunity to take the Los Angeles Lakers franchise as his own. The team was his. Seriously, the team was his. Have a phenomenal 2011-2012 season and you will have the keys to the city, Andrew Bynum. And, by the metrics, he had a fantastic year. Most teams would love to have a center equipped with his on-court production. But the nonchalant attitude killed him. The rusty knee, the reaction to being benched for the three in Golden State, the ejections, and all of the petulance in between. The Buss family took a long, hard look at who Andrew Bynum is. Upon further review, it was time to part ways. Jim Buss cast aside his pride and joy, his project big man turned all-star. There were no excuses left, no defense to be had, so there was but one option left on the table. No matter how long it took, no matter how many calls had to be made, the Lakers were going to swap out Andrew Bynum for Dwight Howard. Twelve players and four teams later, and it was all over. Within hours of the trade going official Mitch Kupchak lined up a press conference, flanking himself with the fruit of his labor. Steve Nash was a home-run, but keeping Pau and landing Dwight? That's a hole in one on a par 5.
At the trade deadline last season, Mitch Kupchak brought in Ramon Sessions and Jordan Hill to serve as a pacemaker until he could perform open heart surgery through the summer. Mitch looked exhausted at last years press conference, more so than usual. There was little to no pep for someone who acquired a playmaker at the point guard in Sessions, while shedding Luke Walton's contract. Not to mention adding talent at a position that was being held together by duct tape, spreading minutes between Troy Murphy and Josh McRoberts. The team wasn't improving on it's own, and he was still having to swallow turning Lamar Odom into a trade exception he couldn't find a way to utilize. Still, he sat there with the media pecking away at him. Vultures ripping apart the carcass of a roster that was once championship caliber. He talked in circles on how these moves should help improve the team. A beleaguered voice being pelted by question after question, only shortly departed from sending Derek Fisher packing. How times have changed for Mitch Kupchak. Congratulations to him for remaining patient, persistent, and doing what he does best – making the rest of the league roll their eyes. Those Lakers at it again.
Friday night, August 10th, Mitch Kupchak was a man of few words. He paid his respects to Andrew Bynum, the center who made this all possible. He pieced together a few words to say about the other, less fragile, parcels being Fed Ex'd, and there were no words left for him. Dwight Howard's ear to ear smile while holding his freshly tailored Lakers jersey did the rest. It was finally over. A journey for the Lakers' front office that began with the trade for Pau Gasol, had finally come to its concluding chapter. Today, only Pau and Kobe remain standing from the opening chapter. Two NBA titles, a sweep at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks, and a sad whimper while flailing against the new “model” team Oklahoma City Thunder in the second round, and this is what has been produced: Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Dwight Howard. The rest of the league may be moving to a new era, with a new batch of superstar talent dispersed throughout the land, but the Lakers had one last act of defiance as Kobe begins his final act. The franchise that put all of it's egg into the Kobe Bryant basket and let Shaq out of the purple and gold uniform wasn't ready to let Kobe be forgotten in the changing of the guard. Not yet. Not with a generational talent that he is, who is still one of the most committed to not only the franchise, but the game of basketball.
This is the end of Kobe Bryant's career. One of the most polarizing players to lace them up. There's no questioning that he is a great, but just how great? Jim Buss could have held on to Andrew Bynum, he's still only 24 and productive enough. He could have said, "No, we are staying with the player we drafted after we burned our bridge with Shaquille, a sign of our ability to still home grow talent. Don't bother with it, Mitch, go ahead and let it go. Let's see Bynum and Nash.". But he didn't. Because Kobe is still their guy, just like he always has been, and always will be. It may have taken a bit of pride swallowing, but when push came to shove, it was clear what had to be done. Kobe has roughly two years left, there is no margin for error left. No more second round exits. No more what if's. The card table is full of sharks; the stakes have never been higher. Can they squeeze another championship out of Kobe Bryant before he leaves forever? Everyone at the table is all-in, and as the players reveal their hands, the odds seem stacked against the Lakers. But, for now, it's hard not to imagine Mitch Kupchak sitting in the poker room, laying down his hand one card at a time, revealing the royal flush he's been staring at.
Victory. Finally. Just when it looked like the chips were down. Even after he finishes playing this hand, Mitch Kupchak has given the franchise a breath of fresh air. Just as it began to feel suffocating, in comes the cool breeze so common in Southern California. Dwight Howard is a win now, win later, move. Sure, there are questions about the back, and the impending free agency, but buried in the muck that is the "worst case scenario" is still the reality that in all likelihood Dwight will be the face of the franchise for the better portion of the next decade. Come 2014, as the roster is currently constructed, the Lakers will have Dwight Howard (should he decide to stick around), Steve Nash, and a whole lotta' cap room to play with. A clean slate to build the new future with Dwight Howard. It's not worth the time to speculate who may or may not be available to the Lakers at that point, but the principle behind it remains. Mitch surely knows it. Dwight knows it. Even Kobe has acknowledged it. In two years, the Lakers will be Dwight Howard's to captain, and the front office will man the armada once again.
It's like sipping a glass of fine wine, sitting back and letting the flavor wash over your palate. Each swish of wine is tantalizing, but all good things must come to an end. No worries though, because once the glass is gone, there's always the rest of the bottle to finish. So down goes the rest of the bottle, and the world feels airy. Not a worry to be had. You want more, you'd love even just another drop given the chance. Half a glass would be ideal. Perhaps there's a bottle left over down in the wine cellar, it's been quite some time since you've taken inventory. Down to the cellar you go, and lo and behold, six more bottles of this exquisite wine await. A month passes, the final bottle is consumed, so now what?
See, that's the thing. When you're living on the winery the juice is always flowing. Drink up.
- Andrew Garrison
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