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Friday, August 10, 2012

Dwight Howard Traded to the Lakers (8.9.12)

The Big Four will be playing 41 dates in Los Angeles, along with select encore shows pushing well into June.

For all of you metalheads, Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax are awesome, but that's not the Big Four that I am referring to.

No, this Big Four consists of Bryant, Howard, Nash, and Gasol. Throw in World Peace to serve as a sort of Testament (or Exodus), and the Los Angeles Lakers have a hell of a starting five.

Dwight Howard's arrival in Los Angeles is certainly a tremendous event. Howard's next destination has headlined countless hours of coverage throughout the past two years, and now the public have been awarded a definitive answer. The speculation can stop, Dwight Howard is a Los Angeles Laker.

Mitch Kupchak certainly learned from the best. In 1996, Jerry West brought Shaquille O'Neal to Los Angeles. The move was historic — Shaq was obviously the most dominant center in the league (with Olajuwon and Ewing soon to enter their twilight years) and he carried an abundance of magnetic star power. The move essentially shifted the power of the NBA — Jordan would lead the Bulls in the East to close out the 90's — with Shaq and Penny considered the next big thing out in Orlando —  but Shaq would migrate West and lead the Lakers to a three-peat to start the 2000's. Now Kupchak has championed his inner West to once again bring the Lakers the best center in the league... in his prime. Kupchak may have shipped out a budding superstar in Andrew Bynum, but he certainly can't be criticized for bringing in the only center that potentially has a higher ceiling than Bynum.

So much for the lockout huh? Small market owners nearly derailed the 2012 season as they cried foul about the unfair advantages of large markets. LeBron James and the Heat served as the poster child (especially with James and Wade taking pay cuts), and now Howard to the Lakers will probably serve as the definitive "problem with the NBA" in the next impending lockout. The new CBA was supposed to prevent guys like Howard from signing with the Lakers by giving teams a home field advantage — an ability to offer more years and more money to players that resign with their current team.

Well, it seems all for naught now, doesn't it? It took four teams to get the deal done — highlighting the fact that other teams were willing to help the "evil, large market Lakers." Without such heavy assistance, it would have been very difficult for the Lakers to add Howard via trade. Add in the fact that Jerry Buss is going to pay through the nose due to escalating salary taxes, and it all points to what the NBA has always known — large market teams dominate the league. The Spurs and Thunder have challenged that notion, but for the most part, it's all been about large markets. With the Lakers nearly $30 million above the salary cap for the upcoming season, Buss will pay roughly $60 million due to the 1:1 ratio that he will be penalized.

Ironically, Buss will relish the 1:1 penalty as the figures will only look to increase in the coming seasons. Starting in the '13-14 season, teams less than $5 million over the tax threshold will pay a standard tax ration of 1:1.50, while repeat offenders are charged 1:2.50. The numbers only go up from there: $5-10 million over will pay 1:1.75, or 1:2.75, $10-15 million over will pay 1:2.5, or 1:3.50, and $15-25 million over will pay 1:3.25, or up to 1:4.25. The Lakers will certainly pay a large repeat offender tax.

Dr. Buss deserves a large amount of credit for bankrolling this operation. Once again he has opened up his wallet to put a primo product on the court. Buss wants to win, he wants the Lakers to catch and eventually surpass the Boston Celtics in the championship count, and he wants Bryant to get that sixth ring, and possibly a seventh and eighth. With the championship window closing on Bryant's career, Buss performed his own German operation to breathe new life into the team and inject more realistic championship aspirations.

After two straight years of second round knockouts, the Lakers are once again thrust into the championship caliber conversation. People seem unwilling to put the Lakers ahead of the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference, but the Lakers weren't even that far off this year — yes they lost in five games, but two games came down to buzzer beating Durant game winners. The addition of Nash made the Lakers a contender once again, and now the addition of Howard cements the Lakers as either 1A, 1B, or 1C. If the Lakers, Thunder, or Heat don't end up in the NBA Finals, the entire basketball world will be shocked.

Overall, the trade speaks volumes about the mentality of Los Angeles. Small market teams don't understand the pressure of playing ball in LA — it's championship or bust in Laker Land. With Howard anchoring the paint, the Lakers will certainly be vying for a championship for at least the next three seasons — assuming Howard resigns with the Lakers. Howard most likely won't sign an extension this season, but that is nothing to worry about. Howard will look to get a max contract deal that can offer him five years and over $100 million dollars by entering free agency. From there, the Lakers can resign him and contend. Howard's arrival also signals the next phase of Lakers basketball. Howard carries enough star power and skill to be the face of the franchise for the post-Bryant era — something that cannot be overlooked when it comes to the decision to deal Bynum.

Overall, I can't say that I'm shocked or surprised about the trade, but there's definitely a giddy feeling inside that can only come from the excitement of something new. I figured Orlando would cave closer to the trade deadline and that Howard would be shipped for pennies on the dollar. Instead, the Magic front office decided to get pennies on the dollar now. Initial reports included both Bynum and Gasol in the trade for Howard. Upon reading that, I adamantly stated that the move would be ill suited. Why give up two seven footers for a 6'11" center that will be available for cheap once February rolls around? Thankfully those reports never came to fruition. By giving away Bynum and a protected 2017 first round pick, the Lakers absolutely stole Howard away from the Orlando Magic.

Ironically, three of the four teams in the trade actually improved, but the Magic aren't one of them. Orlando understood that Howard would leave them high and dry following the '12-13 season, but I figured any Howard trade they signed off on would land them a star, or a guy with star potential. The Lakers gave up Bynum and a draft pick for Howard. The Nuggets gave up Aaron Afflalo, Al Harrington and a protected first round pick for Andre Iguodala. The Sixers gave up Igoodala, Nikola Vucevic, Moe Harkless, and a protected first round pick for Bynum and Jason Richardson. The Magic gave up Howard and Richardson, and will receive Afflalo, Harrington, Vucevic, Harkless, and three protected first round picks.

All along, it would have made sense for a Howard for Bynum swap. Yet, for some reason, the Magic front office did not work the deal out to receive Bynum. So the Magic don't get a combination of Gasol and Bynum, then they lose Bynum, and they even lost a talent like Iguodala. Instead the Magic brought in Afflalo (good wing but not great, and probably never will be great), Harrington (old wing player surely on the decline) and three protected first round picks that will likely be in the mid to high 20's (aka, guys who probably won't turn into superstars).

Unlike the Magic, the Sixers, Nuggets, and Lakers all improved. Bynum makes the Sixers a threat with a young nucleus. Bynum can finally reign as a number one option, and he has a chance to be a real star. Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young, and Bynum will definitely be a force to be reckoned with. Losing Iguodala won't hurt this team as much as many may think. Iguodala is an exceptional wing, but the Sixers contain a considerable amount of strong wing play that can be combined to make up for the lack of Iguodala — Turner, Nick Young, Dorell Wright, Thaddeus Young. I'm sure Doug Collins will love his squad heading into the '13 season.

The Nuggets also improved considerably. Iguodala is a higher quality Afflalo. The starting five of Ty Lawson, Iguodala, Cory Brewer, Danilo Gallinari, and JaVale McGee will feature plenty of up and down play. The Nuggets will look to run teams out of the gym, and Iguodala will be on the receiving end of numerous transition buckets. Denver's firepower has certainly increased. Iguodala will give the team an elite wing defender, and his ability to score without needing plays will certainly make Denver dangerous. George Karl will have a wonderful time scheming his blazing fast offense.

As for the Lakers, well they swapped Bynum for Howard. Howard serves as the present and future of the team. Howard offers a significant defensive advantage, along with superior athleticism. Bynum is more polished offensively, but on a team with Nash running the point, Howard's ability to finish the pick and roll will be relied on more heavily than isolation post ups, and Howard is a beast on the pick and roll — over the past two seasons, Synergy grades him as the most effective roll man in the pick and roll (thanks for that tidbit Brian Kamenetzky). Expect many lobs to come Howard's way. Essentially, Howard will be spoon fed dunks, rendering his post game a bit less important for the time being. Howard also brings a considerable athletic upgrade. Bynum may be younger, but his knees have been a problem (whether his own fault or not). Howard will effectively make up for all of Nash's deficiencies on the defensive end. Howard's athleticism will put an end to the day of point guards killing the Lakers with the pick and roll — Howard is quick and agile enough to step out and stymy the guard coming off the screen before recovering back to the big down low. Mike Brown will certainly enjoy having Howard anchor the paint for his defensive schemes.

And then there's the Magic. They got some picks and picked up Afflalo and Harrington. Afflalo could turn into something, but he is definitely not considered the answer for any of the Magic's problems. Meanwhile, Harrington has been in the league since the '98-99 season, and he has some knee problems. Harrington is a solid scorer, but once again, he isn't a franchise altering guy. Simply put, Afflalo and Harrington bring far less worth than Howard to LA, Iguodala to Denver, and Bynum to Philly. Their picks probably won't amount to anything of high value, and it seems like they are destined for a lottery year. I just can't understand how the Magic did not get back a guy with at least the potential to be a star. I thought they were hellbent on receiving both Gasol and Bynum, and then they didn't get either! I know Orlando is rebuilding from the ground up, but damn, where's the foundation?

In a roundabout way, the Lakers traded Lamar Odom and Bynum for Nash and Howard. I think it's safe to say that every team in the league would love to pull that off. Remember when Odom and Bynum were headliners in a potential deal for Howard? Kupchak is certainly a lock for the Executive of the Year award.

I've enjoyed Bynum's vast improvements these past seven years, but it's hard to not like the Howard deal. Bynum has a post game that no center in the league can match, and his hands are as soft as a memory foam mattress. His free throw shooting will also be sorely missed as Howard will harken back memories of O'Neal with brick after brick. Injuries derailed Bynum's early years, but he showed some true grit when he played hurt in the '10 playoff run, and he showed some durability by playing 60 games in the condensed season (suspensions cost him the six missed games). If Bynum were truly injury prone, he would have broken down in the maniacal schedule that the NBA forced upon its players. I will miss Bynum, the kid who showered with his socks on, the kid who was made fun of for still using Myspace, the kid who gave great insightful, intelligent interviews, and the kid who clearly yearned to improve. Bynum definitely has some growing up to do — the three pointer, the ejections due to technicals, the cheap shots, the insubordination, the handicapped parking space, the isolation from the team in huddles (just to name a few...) — but he is a man that is just coming into his own at 24 years old. I believe that Bynum can be the leader of a team, but I don't think he could have embraced that role as a Laker. Bynum needs his touches to play hard, and this Lakers team just has too many guys that need touches. In Philly, Bynum will get plenty of opportunities to score, and I'm sure that his defensive effort will be strong.

Now it's time to move onto Howard. His product, both on the court and off, will certainly elevate the franchise. The Lakers will definitely contend for a championship, and Howard has the opportunity to truly taste what winning is all about. Nash and Howard will run high screen and rolls, along with side screen and rolls, all the time. Gasol will wait at either the elbows or top of the key for open jumpers. Bryant will get numerous opportunities for isolation basketball on the weakside. World Peace will continue to fire up bricks (just kidding Metta). Actually, World Peace came on strong in the final 20 games or so last year, but the Harden incident deflated his momentum. World Peace will get many good looks from the side and corner threes, and hopefully he will knock down the open shots. Overall, the Lakers will carry the highest basketball IQ on the court on every given night. While some may dream of their offense, I believe they will be absolute beasts on the defensive end. Howard is going to own the paint, and Gasol is a terrific help man to clog the lane. World Peace can play hard nosed defense and not worry about his anchor in the paint losing focus and not rotating. Bryant can play solid defense for longer stretches rather than coasting and playing the role of roamer due to a decrease in his usage on the offensive end. Nash, well, Nash can't cover anybody, but Howard will make sure to take care of that problem.

Say hello to the Big Four. I wonder how much smack Bryant put on James and Durant when he heard the news. I have a feeling it went like this, "Well, I gave you young bucks a couple of years to get the job done. I'm sure you thought I was gonna be done real soon, but I'm still here. 'Bron, enjoy that ring, you won't be getting another one anytime soon. Kevin, I'm sorry man, you won't even make it to the Finals." One can only hope, right?

Now it's time to Ride the Lightning because the Lakers have just called upon a War Ensemble, and although Peace Sells, who's buying? The NBA is a Madhouse.

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