Most statistics would suggest that the Los Angeles Lakers are actually a better defensive team through the first nine games of the 2011-12 season than they were at any point during Phil Jackson's final season.
The Lakers are second in the NBA in rebounding at 46 per game, are one of the league's better teams in opponent's field-goal percentage, allowing only 42 percent shooting from the field, and are second in the West in points allowed per game at 91.1.
With defensive numbers like that, it's hard to explain the team's mediocre 5-4 record, especially when you consider how dominant Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol have been in the middle and the number of points Kobe Bryant has added from the perimeter.
But unless the Lakers hold on against the Memphis Grizzlies, they face the prospect of starting the season 5-5 and perhaps coming to grips with the fact they may be no better than the team that was swept out of the 2011 NBA playoffs by the Dallas Mavericks.
Howard would certainly be an ideal pickup, but it's unlikely that the Lakers could acquire him and Williams, especially after the Chris Paul trade debacle.
However, the Lakers could possibly deal for Howard and still manage to sign a quality point guard if they turn their sights to Atlanta.
Hawks lead guard Kirk Hinrich is currently recovering from shoulder surgery, but he is expected to return to the court in early February, which is just enough time to see if he is healthy enough to chase by the March 15th trade deadline.
Like Howard and Williams, Hinrich will also be an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2012, but his price tag will be a lot less expensive than either of those two.
The strong play of second-year point guard Jeff Teague also means that Hinrich could be available for the right price.
Teague has averaged 11.0 points and 5.8 assists per game since assuming a starting role in last season's playoffs, and the Hawks seem to like the combination of speed and explosiveness that his presence brings to the roster.
Teague complements the Hawks' highlight-factory persona very well, and Atlanta might be willing to entertain offers for Hinrich rather than lose him for nothing this summer.
If Hinrich is healthy, the Lakers should definitely consider him at the least, because while he may not be a long-term solution, he could help this team immediately.
The Lakers are a great defensive team at almost every position except point guard, and Hinrich would represent an instant upgrade over the aging Derek Fisher and the defensively challenged Steve Blake.
Hinrich is equal offensively to Blake, and he is more adept at getting to the rim than either Fisher or Blake, which is an element that has been sorely missing from the Lakers offense.
Nearly all of the Lakers' dribble penetration from the perimeter has come from Kobe, but can he be expected to carry the weight of the perimeter load all season?
The Lakers have few options when it comes to signing a competent point guard who can help them compete in the postseason, and outside of unexpectedly signing Williams, Hinrich could be the best.
I'm not sure if Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak has Hinrich on his trade radar, but he would certainly be a better fit than the current players the Lakers have masquerading as point guards.