Can Kobe Bryant Win a 6th Title Without Dwight Howard?
The latest news in the Dwight Howard saga that seems to have lasted longer than the time it took Christopher Nolan to make three Batman movies is that the Orlando Magic have decided that they might not trade D12 after all.
While the Magic could be putting on a hard-headed approach to getting the best possible package for Howard, the only thing this means for the rest of us is that this is going to go on even longer, possibly up until the trade deadline.
However, instead of worrying about where Howard may end up, let's take a look at the Los Angeles Lakers and whether they truly need Howard on their team to deliver that elusive sixth championship to Kobe Bryant.
Looking at very basic numbers from the Lakers last season, they were 15th in both points per game (97.3) and points allowed (95.9), which aren't really championship-caliber numbers. What's most important about Los Angeles, though, is that it found ways to win close games.
The Lakers led the league in wins by three points or less with 10, as the next closest team had seven. Plus, they were the best overtime team, winning six of seven games after the first 48 minutes of playing time last season.
What does that all mean?
It shows that the Lakers' core as it stood last year knew how to win basketball games. The core players could close games out, hold other teams off and do what it took to win where other teams had nowhere near the same amount of success.
It's true they didn't blow teams out nearly as much as many of the other top NBA contenders, but a win is a win whether it be by three points or 30.
The point here is that Andrew Bynum has been bred in this type of environment, as the Lakers have more or less played this way ever since they climbed back to the top of the league. Howard's Magic, however, have been up and down in terms of being able to finish games out over the past five seasons.
Where Howard would really transform the Lakers would be on defense, as he took a group of mediocre defenders and made it into one of the best defensive teams in the NBA year in and year out.
Howard and Bynum aren't too far apart when it comes to offensive production (Bynum is more skilled on offense, but both guys can score), but there's a huge valley between the two defensively. With Howard, the Lakers could become one of the most formidable defensive teams in the NBA.
What Howard brings to the team over Bynum is the menacing presence down low that makes an opponent think that every shot in the paint has a chance to be blocked. That's not to say Bynum is a poor defender; he just doesn't have the speed or athleticism that Howard does to get his hand in the face of every shooter who comes into the paint.
With the way the Lakers are built after the acquisition of Steve Nash, they could use a guy to anchor the defense. Otherwise, they look to be another average defensive team at best.
If they had Howard in the middle instead of Bynum, guys who get past Nash (and there will be a lot of them) will be more likely to pull up for a jumper rather than foray all the way into the lane. It's hard to even imagine the carnage that will exist when Nash and Antawn Jamison are on the floor at the same time, but Howard would be able to manage it better than Bynum.
Who gives the Lakers the best shot at winning a title?
While Bynum has a strong grasp on the second-best center spot in the NBA, the defense that Howard would bring to the Lakers would transform them into a team with a better shot in longer series, and there would certainly be fewer situations of guys like JaVale McGee taking games over like he did a few times in their first-round series against Denver.
Can the Lakers win a title with Bynum as their center? Sure, he's more than capable. Could the Lakers win a title with Howard as their center? Definitely.
In the end, it seems best to look at it this way: The Lakers have won two titles with Bynum before (even winning one against Howard himself), and there's no reason to think they can't do it again. However, it would be a bit easier if Howard were in the middle instead of Bynum.
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