NBA: The art of the LA Lakers deal

Posted at 08/19/2012 12:26 PM

Dwight Howard is a Laker. Read that again. Dwight Howard is now a member of the Los Angeles Lakers. A move that seemed inevitable given the Lakers’ track record with acquiring the NBA’s best centers, something that seemed but a mere pipedream 15 months ago, a move that sent shockwaves across the NBA landscape, happened via a complicated four-team deal.

It’s been two years since the Lakers last tasted a championship, a seventh game win in the NBA Finals against the hated Boston Celtics. Since then, they were swept away by the Dallas Mavericks in the second round of the 2011 playoffs leading to Phil Jackson’s retirement and lost in five games to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2012 playoffs. For a team and fanbase so used to winning, that was just unacceptable.

Retool rather than rebuild

Rather than pout and bemoan Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss like he did in 2007, Kobe Bryant finally learned to trust his bosses. By letting Ramon Sessions go into free agency, it opened the door to surprisingly sign two-time Most Valuable Player Steve Nash from the Phoenix Suns.

That in itself was already an improbably move, given the Pacific Division rivalry between LA and Phoenix, but for the Suns to willingly accommodate the face of their franchise for a chance to win a title is just not done in today’s NBA.

Kupchak then went on to re-sign key big man Jordan Hill before going after free agent forward Antawn Jamison from the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Throughout this offseason though, everyone recognized that the lynchpin would be Howard, a 6-11 franchise-changing big man who’s already won Defensive Player of the Year thrice and is only 26 years old. The Orlando Magic made it to the Finals in 2009 riding Howard, unfortunately they ran into the Lakers and Howard was left wondering if he could win with the weak Orlando supporting cast.

The Dwightmare

Since last season, questions abounded whether Howard would indeed stay in the Magic Kingdom. He eventually agreed to stay past the trade deadline, but the rumblings only got stronger, eventually resulting in the firing of Coach Stan Van Gundy. Howard then supposedly made demands to be traded to the newly relocated Brooklyn Nets, but those plans fell through when the Nets re-signed Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, and Gerald Wallace, then traded for Atlanta’s Joe Johnson.

When the Brooklyn deal fell through, most agreed that the only place Howard could land was Los Angeles. At one point, the Houston Rockets emerged as a possible trade partner because they wanted Laker big man Andrew Bynum. When Houston fell by the wayside, the trade looked dead once again. That’s when the Philadelphia 76ers and Denver Nuggets appeared out of nowhere to sweeten the pot.

Who got what?

In the end, the Lakers got Howard, Chris Duhon, and Earl Clark. Philadelphia got Bynum, then Jason Richardson from Orlando. Denver secured recent gold medalist Andre Iguodala. Orlando secured Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington, Nikola Vucevic, Sixers No. 1 draft pick Moe Harkless, and future first round draft picks from Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Denver.

Clearly, the Lakers got a whole lot better this offseason. Nash was huge because he addresses their passing deficiencies, outside shooting and just overall basketball smarts. Hill, Jamison and former 76er Jodie Meeks shore up what was an underperforming Laker bench.

But Howard is literally the biggest factor of all. Though D12 won’t sign an extension in LA until after the 2012-2013 season, Kupchak, Buss and the rest of the Laker brass are convinced that exposure to a championship culture and the Hollywood lifestyle will entice him to stay. It also helps that the Lakers can offer him the most money and a fifth year should he sign the extension.

Gasol stays put

Howard, for all his indecisiveness and seeming willingness to throw teammates and coaches under the proverbial bus to get out of Orlando, is a stud, plain and simple. He is without a doubt the NBA’s best center, crucial in a league where height and post play are dying a slow death. He answers the Lakers’ problems in defense because any player who gets past Nash, Bryant, Metta World Peace or Pau Gasol will have to deal with the monster in the middle.

For the Lakers to secure all of these pieces without sacrificing Pau Gasol is probably the greatest coup of all. Gasol was supposed to be part of last year’s vetoed Chris Paul deal. Throughout this past season, he looked out of place as a facilitator as Bynum swallowed the paint in Mike Brown’s offense.

But Gasol seemed revitalized during the London Olympics as Spain marched into the Finals against the US and destroyed the US team that resorted to playing small ball. Teaming Gasol with Nash was lethal enough, tagging him with Howard is downright scary.

And so the world goes for the Los Angeles Lakers. The NBA’s most glamorous franchise for decades has retooled and once again boasts of the star power that shines brightest in Hollywood.

From George Mikan to Wilt Chamberlain, from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Shaquille O’Neal, the greatest centers in NBA history have worn Forum blue and gold on the way to NBA titles. It now falls on Howard’s extremely broad and sculpted shoulders to add his name to that legendary legacy.