The Lakers had size and length in the paint and were ready to bully anybody that tried to come through the lane. What they quickly found out against a hot iron Mavericks attack was the game was evolving. Having big men was great but you needed enough mobility on the defensive end and firepower on the offensive end to hang with a new brand of basketball.
Athleticism is the new end-game in the NBA. If you can combine prowling defensive players with outside shooting and impeccable ball movement, you’re going to be really hard to beat. It's unclear if the Miami Heat coming together started this trend, but they certainly accelerated it.
After the Oklahoma City Thunder handled the slow and plodding Lakers during the 2012 playoffs, it was pretty obvious that Los Angeles was going to have to make significant improvements to become contenders again. Their size was fantastic but it was no longer smothering against the elite teams.
First step was going out and getting Steve Nash. I wrote this on HoopSpeak.com back when they made the sign-and-trade with Phoenix:
So how did the Lakers sell him on the idea of playing for them? Kobe Bryant apparently made a convincing push to get Nash to done the Forum Blue and Gold jerseys, but you can’t dismiss just how much tradition plays into this. The Lakers prove time and time again that they’re one of the best teams at recognizing when it’s time to approach struggling franchises. They did it when they acquired Pau Gasol. They do it whenever they seem to need a key addition to the roster.
They rarely just go out and sign big free agents. That’s not really their deal (although Shaq was obviously the biggest of free agency splashes for them). They’re poachers. They sense weakness in a market, presumably lowball the owner and end up flipping the product for extended playoff runs. Sometimes the trades end up working out (Marc Gasol got good); sometimes they look incredibly lopsided.
Now the Lakers have pilfered Dwight Howard from Orlando while only giving up Andrew Bynum and a protected first rounder that will come into play around 2017 at the earliest. Bynum is obviously a very good player, but he’s also not as good as Dwight Howard. He also doesn’t have the same impact on the court.
That’s small potatoes to give up for Dwight Howard in a relative sense. By grabbing both Nash and Howard in the same offseason and being able to keep Pau Gasol, the Lakers have showed us they are conforming to the new lay of the land that the Heat jump-started by their free agency bonanza in 2010.
The Lakers needed much better ball movement, better scoring and a defensive presence that can stalk the paint and be mobile on the perimeter. Assuming Dwight’s back heals up and he’s fine by—let’s say–halfway through the upcoming season, the Lakers have not adapted to your present day NBA.
It doesn’t mean winning a title will be a cakewalk for them. They’re still going to have a lot of trouble defending the Oklahoma City Thunder because their perimeter-based offense should be overwhelming for defenders like Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant (age against quickness).
Dwight will help defend the rim against Harden and Westbrook, but he won’t really have a matchup to neutralize on his own.
But if they can get past the Thunder (depth is an issue but not an impossible obstacle), then it comes down to a showdown between them and the Miami Heat. Miami reloaded this summer by adding Ray Allen to an attack that almost seemed unfair in the Finals. Now they’ll be going up against another super team with plenty of firepower and a lot of good balance.
It's unclear as of now who will or should be favored if this happens, but know that a couple months ago people were talking about how Miami was a lock to win a title every year.
We’re not hearing that same talk after this Dwight Howard trade.