The wait is over, the move has been made and the NBA has changed forever. In one swift action that very few saw coming, the Orlando Magic sent Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for virtually nothing.
As a result, each and every title contender in the league turned their heads and watched as the Lakers shot past them as the favorites to win it all.
While the paper rosters will tell us what to speculate, they do not offer insight as to what will actually occur. They also do not tell us what we should be breaking down, as specific match-ups are ignored for the inevitable "best based off of talent" argument.
To put an end to such a senseless point to make, the Top 8 title contenders in the NBA have all been drawn up to comparison with Dwight Howard and the Lakers. In turn, we will see the effect that D-12 is set to have on each title contender's title hopes.
The question is, who can take down the mighty, mighty Los Angeles Lakers?
The Los Angeles Lakers' cross-hallway rivals had begun to look like the new favorites to take over the Staples Center after the 2012 season. The Lakers were riding on the aging legs of Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, while helplessly pleading with Andrew Bynum to give a wholehearted effort.
In a matter of months, the Clippers are set to return to an all too familiar role of underdog.
While the talent may be there, the Clippers have absolutely nothing to counter Dwight Howard. DeAndre Jordan remains a question mark. Although worthy of high expectations in development, he should struggle against D-12.
Having Ryan Hollins as a secondary option shouldn't offer any sense of comfort..
When you throw in Blake Griffin's tendency to attack the rim going against Dwight Howard's consistent domination of the paint, we're set for some memorable cross-town battles at the basket. We're also in for a reality check as Griffin realizes not everyone can be posterized.
Dwight Howard changes everything in this rivalry.
The Memphis Grizzlies may have the best chance to knock the Lakers off. Key word: chance.
Believe it or not, the Memphis Grizzlies may have the best chance to upset the Los Angeles Lakers. Their starting lineup matches very well with the Lakers', as they have only a slight positional advantage across the board.
Most important of all, they possess a frontcourt that consists of Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol and Marreese Speights—three capable forces that could help counter the Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard tandem.
Regardless of how strong the Grizzlies' frontcourt may be, this is Dwight Howard we're talking about. While this battle cannot be won on paper, it's clear that the Lakers now own a serious advantage over any team they play.
That's pretty scary when they already had the most dominant frontcourt tandem in all of basketball. Now consider how much better this team has become.
Regardless of how you cut it, the Memphis Grizzlies own a disadvantage. Their depth could keep them in a game with any opponent, and even help earn an eventual upset. With Dwight Howard manning the middle, however, even the worst supporting cast will visit the postseason.
The Lakers just so happen to have surrounded D-12 with three superstars. Memphis succumbs to paper defeat.
The Oklahoma City Thunder remain the favorite coming out of the Western Conference by virtue of the fact that they made it to the NBA Finals in 2012. No matter how hard the anti-Lakers community tries to argue otherwise, that doesn't mean Los Angeles isn't an even stronger favorite to win it all.
The Oklahoma City Thunder's greatest weakness is one that could derail them at any moment. While Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden are all threats to put up 25-to-30 points, sometimes simultaneously, the Thunder have no low-post scoring options. Serge Ibaka's improvement and a solid rookie season from Perry Jones III are certainly possibilities, but let's be real.
Neither of those players are strong enough scorers to pose a legitimate threat to Dwight Howard in the paint.
Due to this fact, the Los Angeles Lakers do in fact own an advantage on paper. They match up well at almost every position and counter the Kevin Durant effect with a player who has made a top draft choice worthy Orlando Magic roster into a title contender for years.
Dwight Howard is one of the most dominant players of all time. Regardless of your opinion on his off-court antics, there's no way around how great he consistently is on the court.
The jump-shot reliant Thunder just became all the more dependent on Westbrook, Durant and Harden to carry the team every time out.
No matter how old the players may be, absolutely no team in the NBA will give the Los Angeles Lakers a run for their money like the San Antonio Spurs. This time around, history does in fact dictate future events.
If anyone knows how to counter a dominant big man, it's Tim Duncan. The Spurs' all-time great has made a living by preaching fundamentals over athleticism, and in turn, has taken down the likes of Shaquille O'Neal, Dirk Nowitzki, Larry Johnson, Patrick Ewing and Amar'e Stoudemire.
If you think the 36-year-old can't take down Dwight Howard because of a little thing like age, you've got another thing coming to you.
To go with Duncan are elite slashers Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, who have both mastered the art of finishing in traffic. While Dwight Howard would certainly come up with a few swats against the perimeter masters, each have found a way to overcome size as they score.
For Parker, it's the best floater in the history of basketball. For Ginobili, it's his twist-and-turn style of attack that keeps even the greatest interior defenders off balance.
While the Lakers maintain a hold of the paper advantage, the San Antonio Spurs are the team to watch if any Lakers haters are awaiting their downfall.
I will swallow my pride, temper my excitement and ignore the fact that we'd see one of the greatest point guard matchups in NBA Finals history—Steve Nash against Rajon Rondo. Instead, I'll touch on the Dwight Howard effect.
Much like the San Antonio Spurs, the Boston Celtics are a lock to keep it competitive regardless of what the roster situation looks like.
Rajon Rondo has spent years slicing and dicing elite interior defenders with his scoring and passing. Kevin Garnett, meanwhile, might as well cancel out Dwight Howard's dominance with his tenacity and veteran wisdom.
Oh, and there's this little thing called "rivalry" that always seems to make lopsided paper pairings close.
While D-12 and the Lakers remain the favorites to win it all, the presence of KG on the interior should counter the Lakers' attack in a solid way. The question is, can Brandon Bass and Jared Sullinger be relied upon to contain Pau Gasol?
Yet another perk of the Dwight Howard effect.
Derrick Rose alone makes the Chicago Bulls a viable threat to the crown. Once you've paired him with Luol Deng and Joakim Noah, the Bulls become a legitimate title favorite coming out of the Eastern Conference.
What's truly key for the Bulls' title odds is not any player. Instead, it's the brilliant defensive mind of Tom Thibodeau.
While Thibodeau and the Bulls have never had great success in containing D-12, Thibs has proven to be a master of adaptation. He's also proven that he can take the players around Howard out of a game and minimize the value of his contributions.
Unfortunately for Chicago, it doesn't appear as if that will have much of an effect against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Steve Nash may not be the greatest defender, but he's a lock to post double-digit assists every time out. Kobe Bryant, meanwhile, is far superior to the weak likes of Marco Belinelli and an aging Richard Hamilton.
Throw in Carlos Boozer paling in comparison to Pau Gasol and you have yourself a serious paper advantage in the favor of the Los Angeles Lakers. Even the great Derrick Rose may not be able to overcome the interior presence and influence of Dwight Howard.
Not on a team this strong.
One of the quiet and ignored facets of professional athletics is the phenomenon of someone "having your number." For the Miami Heat, that someone just so happens to be Dwight Howard.
Despite possessing the far superior talent, the Heat have gone a mere 4-4 against Howard since coming together two seasons ago. This is especially significant considering Dwyane Wade was defended by an aging Jason Richardson and LeBron James was taken on by Hedo Turkoglu.
Not to mention the fact that Chris Bosh was paired against either Brandon Bass or Ryan Anderson.
With those factors weighed, it's hard to explain why the Heat split the series with D-12 and the Magic. This time around, it's hard to imagine them having an easier time when Howard is surrounded by a cast of All-Stars.
Throw in the fact that Antawn Jamison is good for 17 points a night when seeing starters minutes and you have a tough matchup for the defending champions. LeBron James is the most dominant player in the NBA, right alongside Howard, but can he overcome his recent rival?
As history would lead us to believe, the answer may just be no. Then again, who are we to count out Miami?
Many will state that the New York Knicks are not a championship contender, but this is all being evaluated based off of paper comparisons. For that reason, the Knicks are just as serious in the title hunt as a Lakers team who has never once played together.
In New York, the Knicks throw one of the better shooting teams in the NBA onto the floor. Steve Novak is the best three-point shooter in the game, while Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith have a long history of turning it on against the Los Angeles Lakers. No matter how inconsistent they may be, neither can be counted out as a threat with their long history against the franchise.
Especially not Carmelo Anthony, who remains one of the Top 10 players and Top 5 scorers in the NBA.
This presents a scenario in which Dwight Howard's presence is nullified. With a team that can win via jump shooting opposing L.A., this matchup becomes one to watch. Unlike the Oklahoma City Thunder, however, the Knicks have legitimate interior scorers.
Amar'e Stoudemire will attack the rim hard and force Howard to remain on his toes. Tyson Chandler, meanwhile, not only won the Defensive Player of the Year award but shot the best field-goal percentage of any player in the NBA during the 2012 season.
If that doesn't create an outstanding positional battle, I'm not sure what does.
Nevertheless, the Knicks' proven inconsistencies trump the Lakers' future uncertainties. Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni currently pose no match for Steve Nash, especially considering all of them thrive in attacking the paint.
Where D-12 will be anxiously awaiting their attempts at the pick-and-roll. Advantage Lakers.