In a day and age in which general managers take the easy road to success, the Los Angeles Lakers have once again abandoned the art of building a contender. From completing a sign-and-trade for two-time MVP to signing former All-Star Antawn Jamison, the route L.A. has taken is far from conventional but filled with business savvy.
And that was before they traded for Dwight Howard.
Never one to mix prospect evaluation and patience, the Los Angeles Lakers have pulled off a swap for the ages. Mitch Kupchak and company have sent Andrew Bynum to the Philadelphia 76ers and, in turn, received three-time Defensive Player of the Year award winner Dwight Howard.
They've also established themselves as the best paper team in the NBA.
Before we get ahead of ourselves and debate how much the Lakers will win the title by, let's remember who stands in their path. Specifically, let's not forget the fact that the Oklahoma City Thunder remain their greatest test to even escape the Western Conference.
A test that Kobe Bryant and company may not pass.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are not only younger and more athletic than the Los Angeles Lakers, but they also have more reliable scoring options. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are both threats for 25 a night, while James Harden may as well be a lock for 15-to-20 of his own.
Throw in Serge Ibaka's much-improved shooting ability and the return of Eric Maynor, and you have a dangerous team. You also have the best clutch performer in the NBA at this point in time in Kevin Durant.
The question is, can the Oklahoma City Thunder actually defeat the Los Angeles Lakers? More realistically, can the Lakers actually overcome the Thunder?
Upon acquiring Dwight Howard, that answer shifts to an emphatic yes.
We need not forget that the Orlando Magic won 50 games in every season from 2008 to 2011 and were on pace for such in 2012, when there was a lockout-shortened season. This came with very little else but Dwight Howard, which proves how valuable he can be.
It's why he's right up there with LeBron James as the most dominant player in the league.
What this adds to the Lakers' rotation is a player whose effort is consistent. Say what you will about his off-court issues, but any team would take an all-out performer on the floor over a guy whose maturity is as weak as any in Andrew Bynum.
This is a major upgrade.
Furthermore, the Lakers received a player who cannot only dominate Kendrick Perkins, but Serge Ibaka at the same time. Howard will also cut off any chance of Russell Westbrook and James Harden attacking the basket, making the Thunder even more reliant upon their jump shooting.
Something that ended up killing them during the NBA Finals.
Due to this fact, the Los Angeles Lakers have become the clear-cut favorites for the NBA title. Howard will not only dominate on defense but will open doors for Pau Gasol while bringing his consistent 20 points a night to the franchise.
Say what you will about Kobe Bryant's supposed ball-stopping, but answer me this: who did he have to pass to on the perimeter? Steve Blake, Ramon Sessions and Metta World Peace? With a player whose effort and production are consistent, Kobe will have no problem deferring to D-12 in the paint.
He'll also find it easier to give the ball up to Pau Gasol.
And then we get to these guys named Steve Nash and Antawn Jamison. Both of these players are capable of putting up big numbers, with Nash a lock for 10 assists and Jamison coming off of a year in which he averaged 17 points.
For Nash, D-12 will offer a safety blanket on defense to save him from blown assignments. He'll also offer him yet another pick-and-roll player whose offensive abilities are awfully similar to former teammate Amar'e Stoudemire's attack of the basket.
As for Jamison, expect his season to be similar to Ryan Anderson. While he can't stroke the three on a consistent basis, he's more than fit to hit a 20-foot jump shot with his eyes closed. D-12's presence in the paint will not only enable him to do so, but will also erase fear of a miss.
His presence on the offensive glass will offer a serious sense of security.
So what will it be? Is it Steve Nash being able to counter Russell Westbrook? Kobe's ability to dominate even greater than James Harden? Or Pau Gasol matching Serge Ibaka tit for tat? If it's none of that, maybe it's the fact that Dwight Howard is the most dominant big man the NBA has seen since Shaquille O'Neal.
And we all know how that worked out for the Los Angeles Lakers.