There is so much hand-wringing around the league right now, all because the Lakers suddenly, probably got better. It's not fair, I hear. Small-market teams can't compete, I read. That is a funny sentiment considering how, among four likely NBA championship contenders, one is in a mid-sized market (Miami), two are in small markets (Oklahoma City, San Antonio) and only one is in a big market (Los Angeles).
To recap, Los Angeles traded a younger All-Star center for an older All-Star center. While Dwight Howard has been better than Andrew Bynum, Bynum could easily be better in a few years, depending on how both players grow. The Magic likely could have gotten Bynum, but they elected to be terrible (otherwise known as "the Thunder model").
Observers may be conflating the light Orlando haul with the Lakers fleecing the Magic. The sad truth is that Orlando is self-fleecing, deciding to embark on a total rebuild rather than build around an All-Star. The strategy could pay off in the end, but it is not a reflection of how Los Angeles can get something for nothing.
Dwight was the right play for L.A., as the Lakers must win now. But let us not pretend that they traded Kwame Brown to accomplish this. Losing Bynum is a risk, especially with Howard coming off back surgery. Did you see Howard's introductory press conference? Between imitations of Kobe Bryant and Los Angeles residents, he refused to give a timetable on his return from injury.
No timetable? How many other teams are willing to incur this level of risk? Andrew Bynum has had his past injuries, but we at least know that he's expected to suit up at the beginning of next season. We're close to 2012 NBA training camp and Howard has yet to start running.
This is not to criticize L.A.'s trade, but to merely point out that they're giving up a lot and taking on doubt. They aren't being bullies so much as they're being bold. That quality has defined them among a league of timid teams. Los Angeles makes the big moves while others twiddle thumbs.
And yes, they don't necessarily fear that a free agent will leave. People want to play for Los Angeles. This is an advantage, but credit to the Lakers—not every team is confident enough to bet on themselves.
Dwight Howard, to date, has given no indication that he will stay with the Lakers long term. He was at least willing to give this a test drive, but it's not inconceivable that Los Angeles will be left at the altar come 2013. The Lakers don't care, because the team without Dwight Howard had no chance at a championship.
If you find it unfair that the Lakers traded good value for an injured, unhappy superstar, then state your case specifically. What is unfair about this? Is it that the Lakers have better owners than your team has? Is it that past success has given them more reason to be confident in themselves?
This sounds fairly reasonable to my ears. The most unfair element of the season will likely happen next summer, when a terrible team is rewarded with the No. 1 pick.