Dwight Howard and 4 Moves the Los Angeles Lakers Need to Make
For some fans, the fact that the Los Angeles Lakers let two of the four losses to Oklahoma City in their five-game playoff defeat get away masks a hard fact to accept: As constructed, this team is not going to win a title.
The truth is, the Lakers are too inconsistent, too methodical and do not get enough easy points to win at the highest level. The NBA is not an athletic league, as evidenced by my predicted San Antonio vs. Miami title-matchup. If you can not score on penetration and do not have the ability to flash back in transition defense, you lose.
With that in mind, the Lakers have plenty of ammunition to make deals that can make them a championship contender in 2013. There will be tremendous turnover as a result of the two humbling playoff exits of 2011 and 2012, but it is important that Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak addresses the Lakers' need to get athletic and more efficient offensively going forward.
Trade Andrew Bynum for Dwight Howard
Look, I am a realist. No matter who is acquired or remains on the team, the Lakers will be Kobe Bryant's club until he retires or his current contract ends.
The fact is, the Lakers will not deal Bryant because, even if they were interested, no team will assume the figures on his deal.
Anyone who thinks No. 24 is going anywhere is mistaken. So, with the awareness that Kobe is going to be the "lead dog" and continue firing up the most shots, it is practical to build a team around that.
With that said, dealing Andrew Bynum for Dwight Howard makes the most sense.
Yes, Bynum made huge strides this year, and yes, I do believe he has not reached his full potential. But the main reason I continue to rank Dwight Howard as the best center in the NBA is not because of his offensive game. No, it is the other end of the court the Lakers need to address. And quite simply, Andrew Bynum is not the defensive stopper/presence that Dwight Howard is.
I not only account for rebounding and shot blocking, but the ability to recover and alter shots. Bynum is beaten down the floor consistently by faster pivot players. One only needs to look back at the Denver series to see Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee consistently beating Bynum down the court for easy buckets.
The fact is, the Lakers have to have an eraser of mistakes inside. Bynum is good, but he is no Howard. No one in the game is, when Howard is on.
Offensively, it is invariably a wash, because again, Kobe Bryant is going to be the number one option on that side of the court. So for the Lakers to contend next year, they need a pivot player who can offset some of the team's overall defensive liabilities. Once Howard is acquired, I can not honestly see a scenario where he would want to leave Los Angeles.
Sign Steve Nash
This reeks of blasphemy as a Laker fan and maybe hearkens back to the 2003-2004 season with the ill-fated signing of Gary Payton, but the Lakers should make a hard run at Steve Nash.
Quite frankly, I just can not see Deron Williams coming to Los Angeles.
The numbers just do not add up with the new collective bargaining agreement. So in lieu of a top-three point guard, maybe it is good to go get an all-time top-10 point guard.
My rationale on this is two fold.
One, Nash instantly helps to space the floor. Unlike Ramon Sessions or Steve Blake, he can create his own jump shot. Sessions' biggest weakness was the inability to establish a mid-range game outside of the running floater he used at times in the playoffs. Second, The Lakers instantly become a more efficient team both in terms of Nash's ball-handling as well as his decision making.
Taking the ball out of Kobe Bryant's hands helps the offense immensely, overall.
The obvious downside is Nash's lack of defense. But let's be honest: Sessions and Blake were not doing anything to slow down Ty Lawson or Russell Westbrook. So if you can not shut your opponent down, it helps to at least offset them offensively. No free agent can do that at the price Nash could be had for.
Plus, if Sessions comes off the bench, the Lakers' second team is immediately faster and more dynamic. Sessions will have a much easier time getting his shot against second-team big men and without Bryant demanding the ball.
Amnesty Metta World Peace
Look, I have always liked the wacky Ron, err, Metta World Peace. He is competitive, plays with desire, and is not afraid of any moment (see: Game 7 vs. Boston in 2010). But the writing is on the wall: at 33, he no longer is the dominant defender he once was.
To compound that, his offensive game is predicated on playing in the post, something that will not happen much in the starting five for the Lakers. If he comes off the bench, the tempo gets picked up and that is not to World Peace's benefit, either.
If the Lakers were to amnesty MWP, that would free up space to go after his possible replacement...
Try and Sign Nicolas Batum (from Portland)
The lanky Frenchman is one of the more intriguing players in the 2012 free-agent crop. Coming off a season where he was limited to just 59 games (and 34 starts), Batum averaged 14 points per game on 45 percent shooting, including 39 percent from three-point land.
What the Lakers lack is athleticism and outside shooting. Batum provides both of those elements.
That said, it will take a great offer from the Lakers to pry him away from Portland, as he is a restricted free agent. In my opinion, he is the unquestioned gem of the free-agent class in terms of the small forward position. I say that because, although Gerald Wallace has the option to become a free agent, he is going to be 30 and his game may not be suited to play off of the Lakers' big men and Kobe Bryant.
Re-Sign Lamar Odom
I watched the meltdown in Dallas from a distance. I know the baggage Lamar Odom has after a couple of tumultuous years. And I know that being married to a Kardashian brings a phalanx of things utterly unrelated to basketball.
All that said, Lamar Odom would be a huge re-acquisition for the Los Angeles Lakers.
I do not have to be Dr. Santhi Periasamy (aka Dr. Sandy, Ron Artest's psychotherapist) to see that Lamar Odom was clearly unhappy down in the Metroplex. For all the concerns about his mental state, it was clear Odom was happiest in Los Angeles and did not feel valued after the attempted trade to acquire Chris Paul that would have sent him to New Orleans fell through.
But for all his sensitivity about the trade, there is nothing that suggests that Odom would not be receptive to returning to the Lakers.
Kobe Bryant has been nothing short of adamant about wanting both Odom and Derek Fisher back in the fold (though Fisher seems less likely). Beyond all of the mental elements, Odom can still play. The Lakers bench was abysmal last year. Retaining Jordan Hill, moving Ramon Sessions to the bench and re-signing Odom tremendously increases the value of the second unit.
Keep Pau Gasol
Personally, I do not understand the intense need for Laker fans to scapegoat Pau Gasol. All the Lakers have done is consistently win since his acquisition and it was his elevated play that was ultimately the difference in a repeat championship in 2010.
The last two years have seen diminished play from many Laker players, but no one bears the brunt quite like Gasol. It is patently ridiculous to consider getting rid of him.
Why, you may ask?
Because no one does as much, to as much of a degree, as Gasol does from the power forward spot in Los Angeles. The ball moves better when the offense runs through him, he continues to be a double-double guy year-in and year-out, and you can play him at the power forward or center spot with success.
If you ship Gasol out, there is a certainty that there will not be an adequate return for his ability. And since the objective is not like New York (making the playoffs) or New Jersey/Brooklyn (having a centerpiece to sell tickets around), trading Gasol does not make sense unless he has no desire to play in Los Angeles.
If that is the case, the Lakers should ask for Luol Deng and either Carlos Boozer or Joakim Noah in return, while dealing Steve Blake or even Metta World Peace. But rumors happen all the time and without substance to them, they are just that.
There are many directions the Los Angeles Lakers can take heading into 2013. It is almost assured that it will not be the path they are currently on. I expect more than a few tweaks this time around. There will be wholesale changes. With some of the acquisitions noted here, the Lakers could be more than just "championship tested" or "proud." You know, terms to describe an aging champion.
They can be champions again.
Assuming these moves all panned out, the team would look something like this going into 2013:
C - Dwight Howard
PF - Pau Gasol
SF - Nicholas Batum
SG - Kobe Bryant
PG - Steve Nash
Bench: Ramon Sessions, Jordan Hill, Lamar Odom, Josh McRoberts, ???
If the rumor about Gasol wanting out is true, who do you think the Lakers should ask for from Chicago? I think Deng and Noah would be the ultimate, but that seems like a steep price for the Bulls. However, they do have Taj Gibson waiting in the wings. This is going to be a season of change. One can only hope it is for the better in 2013.