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NBA Trade Rumors: Why the Los Angeles Lakers Are the New Title Favorites

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NBA Trade Rumors: Why the Los Angeles Lakers Are the New Title Favorites
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Wake up, the Dwightmare is finally over.

The Orlando Magic have finally traded Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers. In the four-team deal (that also involves the Denver Nuggets and the Philadelphia 76ers), the Lakers will receive Howard and send over a first-round pick to Orlando and Andrew Bynum to Philadelphia (via ESPN).

With Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant in the backcourt, Metta World Peace and Pau Gasol at the forward spots and Howard manning the middle, the Lakers will boast one of the best starting lineups in recent memory. 

 

Backcourt

Steve Nash, who won the MVP award in 2005 and 2006 with the Phoenix Suns, joined the Lakers in a sign-and-trade early last month. The Lakers sent two first-round and two second-round draft picks to Phoenix.

Nash is one of the best pick-and-roll point guards in the league, and he has been able to revitalize big men over the course of his career. Amar'e Stoudemire, who played with Nash for six seasons (well, really only five; he played just three games in the 2005-06 season), saw his production significantly increase while Nash was running the offense.

Though Stoudemire produced just 10.6 wins in his first two seasons combined, he averaged 12.8 win shares per season in his four mostly healthy seasons with Nash. While Marcin Gortat produced just 6.8 wins in his first three seasons in Orlando combined, the Polish Hammer averaged 6.4 wins in his two full seasons with Nash.

Nash has a habit of getting the best out of the big men he works with, and that will be key when playing with Howard, whose production significantly dipped last season—mostly due to nagging back injuries.

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Bryant starts alongside Nash in the backcourt, and there's no question that he will come back competitive as ever next season. After getting ousted in the second round in consecutive playoffs and winning just one game combined in those second-round appearances, the Lakers are hungry for another chance at glory.

Team USA is the favorite to win the gold medal in London this month, and it's no question that Bryant will come back with renewed firepower after winning gold. Bryant is the most competitive spirit we've seen in this league since Michael Jordan, and it's no secret that he can't wait to win a sixth ring to equal Jordan's total.

Bryant is still one of the best scorers in the league, but his field goal percentage dropped from 45.1 percent to 43 percent last season. He was the focal point of Mike Brown's offense this season and often had to hoist up contested shots late in the shot clock. Nash is the best point guard Bryant has ever played with (sorry Nick Van Exel), and Bryant will now have another option to kick the ball out to in these situations. 

 

Frontcourt

Metta World Peace's production has definitely dropped in the past few seasons, and he's the weak link in this starting lineup. World Peace, who prides himself in his defensive ability, had a worse defensive rating than Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Matt Barnes, among others.

In fact, World Peace produced just over half the wins defensively that Bynum did last season.

Playing with great players always makes guys like World Peace even better. With scorers in Nash, Bryant and Gasol, World Peace doesn't need to put the ball in the hoop. He just needs to focus on guarding the opponent's best perimeter player to relieve the pressure from Bryant and Nash.

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The fact that the Lakers were able to make the Howard deal and retain Gasol was amazing, but things always work out for the Lakers.

With Howard behind him, Gasol has the freedom to roam around defensively and play even tighter on his man, knowing that Superman is behind him if his opponent burns him. With all due respect to Bynum, Howard is a far better defender.

Gasol has declined in the playoffs the last two years. While he produced 0.224 wins per 48 minutes during the Lakers' 2010 championship run, he produced just 0.115 wins and 0.088 wins per 48 minutes during the playoffs the last two seasons.

Somehow, the Lakers have a knack of finding great big men. Howard joins the ranks of George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O'Neal as the great Laker big men.

Howard, a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, will provide a great interior presence for the Lakers. Howard relies on his athleticism to score, but as he further develops his postgame, he will be a threat on offense as well. Nash is the best point guard that Howard has ever played with it, and it's no doubt that the Nash-Howard duo will take the Lakers to the next level next season.

Howard thrived during the 2008-2009 season running the pick-and-roll with Hedo Turkoglu, and now he has a true point guard to do the job. After Turkoglu left and came back much worse, Howard has never run the pick-and-roll as effectively, and the Lakers will be scary with Nash and Howard.

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Mike Brown can run a pick-and-roll with possibly the greatest duo in the league, giving him a play that will work consistently and not even include Bryant or Gasol. 

 

Bench

While the Lakers boast a terrific starting lineup, its bench is not as deep as GM Mitch Kupchak would like. After Ramon Sessions joined the Bobcats, Steve Blake and Andrew Goudelock will likely split time backing up Nash.

Second-round draft pick Darius Johnson-Odom will probably back up Bryant. Johnson-Odom demonstrated his superior scoring ability as a tremendous slasher last year at Marquette, and he'll try to do the same in Los Angeles.

Matt Barnes will be behind World Peace, and recent signee Antawn Jamison will provide depth at the power forward spot. Jamison's great three-point shooting ability will allow the Lakers to spread the floor and make it even more difficult for opposing defenses. Jordan Hill will be Howard's backup, but he likely won't get much playing time.

Hill will start at center (unless Brown decides to start Jamison and move Gasol to center) until Howard returns from back surgery, but as Gortat knows, backing up Howard means minimal and inconsistent minutes. 

 

Matchups

 

Oklahoma City Thunder

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The Lakers' primary foe in the Western Conference is the Oklahoma City Thunder, who defeated the Lakers in five games last season. This matchup will provide some very intriguing head-to-head competitions.

At point guard, the athletic Russell Westbrook will face off against the sharpshooting and passing Nash. While Westbrook will overpower the Lakers on offense, Westbrook probably won't be able to contain Nash too well on offense.

Advantage: Thunder

Whether he's facing off against Thabo Sefolosha or James Harden, Bryant's intensity and superhuman scoring ability will put him on top.

Advantage: Lakers

World Peace is a good defender, but Durant is an even better scorer.

Advantage: Thunder

Though Serge Ibaka led the league in blocks last season, he often gambles on defense. Gasol still has a beautiful jumper, and Ibaka is developing one as well, but at this point, Gasol pulls it out.

Advantage: Lakers

Howard is the best big man in the game (when healthy), and no matter what Perkins does, he won't be able to contain him. And Perkins is a non-factor on offense.

Advantage: Lakers

 

Miami Heat

After winning the first championship of the Big Three era, the Miami Heat are the heavy favorites to emerge out of the East. Let's look at the matchups for the Heat and Lakers.

Steve Nash is still one of the best point guards in the game, and Mario Chalmers is an average starter.

Advantage: Lakers

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As great as Wade is at slashing to the basket, he will have to score off the perimeter more with Howard in the lane. Other than Chris Bosh, the Heat have no interior defensive presence to stop Bryant from doing the same.

Advantage: Lakers

Shane Battier showed us a new part of this game during the Finals, but we still don't know if he can consistently knock down the three-ball. Both Battier and World Peace are in the lineup for defensive purposes, but I'd say Battier pulls it out here.

Advantage: Heat

As good as Gasol is, LeBron James is the best basketball player alive. Enough said.

Advantage: Heat

Though Bosh is a great scorer while healthy, Howard has shown that he is the best big man alive.

Advantage: Lakers 

 

Accolades

Los Angeles has the upper hand in matchups against the Thunder and the Heat, the participants in last season's NBA Finals.

The Lakers' starting lineup boasts 33 All-NBA selections, 33 All-Star selections, three MVP awards and four DPOY awards.

It's just not fair.

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