The thundering that rocked America at the end of the Dwight Howard saga was a collection of NBA GMs simultaneously slamming their heads into their desks when they read that Howard had become a Los Angeles Laker. The reverberations of this trade are going to be felt far outside the four cities involved in it. From Oklahoma City to Miami, this trade could drastically alter not just the title chances of the all the contenders but the way GMs put together their teams for the next several years.
Before you think that it is pure hyperbole, let’s look at exactly what this trade did for the Lakers.
It gives them a difference maker.
The trade last month for Steve Nash was nice but it did not turn the Lakers into a team to beat. If anything, it felt like a step towards the solution…not the solution itself. Nash certainly helps their offense but would he really be a difference maker against an Oklahoma City Thunder team (the favored team to beat in the West prior to the Howard trade) with Russell Westbrook at the point? Or would he be just another Laker guard in a playoff series watching as Westbrook got into the lane for uncontested elbow jumpers and layups?
The trade for Howard? Now that is a solution. Howard solves the biggest problem the Lakers have: below average defenders on the wings. Bryant is no longer a lock down defender, and Nash never was. While they are a perfect backcourt for your fantasy team, in the actual NBA their defensive liabilities would diminish their offensive potency (if not for the fact that they may also take touches away from one another). Knowing Howard is behind them means that Kobe and Nash (and Metta World Peace) have to defend against the jump shot, because no one is going to be driving the lane on the Lakers anymore.
Having a shot blocker protecting the rim changes a team’s entire approach on offense. Suddenly a part of the court is deemed off-limits. Jump shots become a bigger part of the arsenal. Post ups and layups become less important-and less dangerous.
It is addition by subtraction, at least on offense
Furthermore, the trade could help invigorate the Lakers offense. Adding Howard could get Gasolout of a funk he seems to have been in since the 2011 playoffs.Gasol had become a third wheel for the Lakers this past year, an option behind Kobe and Andrew Bynum. Because Bynum played down low, Gasol was forced to become a high post player (a spot on the floor he was not particularly happy about).
Howard does not necessarily open things open down low (if we learned anything from the Tyson Chandler / AmareStoudermaire experiment it is that a center lacking a post-game will still find himself down low for offense rebounds, which will crowd things up for an offensive minded power forward who likes to score around the basket). But Howard certainly does not need the touches that Bynum used to get to be happy, which should mean more shots for Gasol. And for specific plays, Howard can move off the blocks to open things up for Gasol (with Kobe on the team, there still should be plenty of offensive rebounds for Howard to grab).
It drastically affects small ball
The NBA Finals this past summer were a glimpse into where the NBA could have been going. Lacking a traditional center the Heat moved their personnel around, putting Lebron at power forward and moving Bosh to center. The move killed the Thunder. Kendrick Perkins could not stay with the Heat’s pick and roll, resulting in way too many easy scoring chances.
The move towards smaller ball had already happened in several other spots in the NBA (the Knicks, for example, moved Carmelo Anthony to the four spot when Mike Woodsen took over as coach). The Thunder appeared to be following suit, as rumors persisted that they would amnesty Perkins (a defensive center built to bang bodies with other big centers) to account for this new NBA iteration. The reason this could work was the lack of true big men in the NBA. Looking at current NBA rosters, you had one truly dominant center (Howard) and one very good center (Bynum, the reason the Thunder traded for Perkins in the first place). Because Howard wassaddled with a truly horrendous supporting cast, he was not considered a threat to the contenders in the East or the West.
But he was a sleeping giant. If he developed a low post game he could dominate the league like Shaq had. If he could get a decent cast of players around him he could become a perennial NBA finalist. Look at the League’s list of past champions. What you will see, besides a staggering number of Laker and Celtic championships, is the number of times a champion had a great center. Russell. Chamberlain.Kareem. Parrish. Olajuwan.Shaq. Wing players can win you championships. Dominant centers almost always do. And Howard is the dominant center in the league.
Howard now has championship-level talent around him. NBA history dictates that he is destined to win. So what does that mean for the rest of the NBA? Kiss the idea of small ball behind. Now the Thunder have to hold on to Perkins. Now the Heat appear a big or two short. So too do the Clippers.
Championships, of course, are not won on paper. And the Lakers have been down this road before. At the end of their last championship run (the one with Shaq and Kobe), the two added two dominant Hall of Fame players. Both Karl Malone and Gary Payton, though, turned out to be a shell of their former selves. Infighting, Kobe’s indiscretions in Colorado and a coach that had grown tired of the infighting doomed a team that made it all the way to the NBA Finals. So the trades for Nash and Howard do not guarantee a championship. But they go a long way to helping bring one back to LA.
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