Not so fast. The Miami Heat may have a qualm or two with such a hasty assumption.
You remember the Heat, don't you? That ol' superteam that hoisted the Larry O'Brien Trophy not two months ago. The one that still employs the best player on the planet (LeBron James), one of the top perimeter slashers in the game today (Dwyane Wade), and a skilled big man (Chris Bosh) who'd fit right in at Jurassic Park. The same one that lured Hall-of-Fame three-point specialist Ray Allen to South Beach to join its bench mob.
Yeah, the Heat are still pretty good and deserve to be the prohibitive favorites to defend their title until someone proves capable of knocking them off their perch.
To be sure, the Lakers could be the team to do it, what with the size and skill of Howard and Pau Gasol to punish Miami on the interior. At the very least, the Purple and Gold own a prominent seat at the table of contenders after swooping on Superman, and should leave most of the NBA trembling in fear as a result.
Just not the Miami Heat, and here's why.
Historically speaking, acquiring an elite big man one day doesn't necessarily guarantee ultimate success the next.
The Lakers know this as well as any franchise in the NBA. It took LA four full seasons to win a title with Wilt Chamberlain (in 1972), five for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to take the team to the top (in 1980) and four for Shaquille O'Neal to come away with some serious hardware with Kobe Bryant by his side (in 2000).
And while Dwight Howard may be the best center in the game today, he still pales in comparison to each of those giants as far as what they meant to the landscape of the league during their respective eras.
On a similar note, the bigger issue may be one of fitting all the pieces together. Like any squad, a superteam usually needs time to gel before it can go about pillaging the rest of the league for shiny objects. The 2007-08 Boston Celtics, who won the title immediately after trading for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, are more the exception that proves the rule that the Heat themselves brought back to the fore just three years later. Only when the requisite parts combine perfectly from the start might a championship be the final result.
There's no telling whether that'll be the case in LA. How will the fun-loving Dwight get along with the super cereal Kobe? How will Howard and Pau Gasol—two bigs who prefer to play in or near the paint—co-exist on the court? What sort of dynamic can we expect to see from a backcourt occupied by two aging, ball-dominant future Hall-of-Famers?
These sorts of questions no longer concern the Heat. They spent the better part of two years sorting through their pecking order and figuring out how best to wreak havoc on the league with their unconventional collection of personnel.
That growth as a team requires time—time that the Heat have already taken plenty of, and time that the Lakers don't have on their side this coming season.
Among the not-entirely-Dwight-related issues left for the Lakers to tackle—how's the whole Kobe-Steve Nash situation in the backcourt going to work?
Admittedly, this won't likely be of much concern when it comes to putting up points. These two are both such smart and savvy students of the game that they should be able to co-exist just fine (if not beautifully) offensively. Ideally, the Black Mamba will realize that he doesn't have to (and shouldn't) do it all by himself on the perimeter anymore, and, subsequently, will let Nash handle the ball while he settles in as a lethal scorer and slasher.
The more troubling stakes here are on defense. Kobe (soon to be 34) and Nash (38) will constitute the oldest backcourt in the NBA and, likewise, one that is supremely susceptible to younger, quicker players. The Mamba still garners respect for his D and is anything but a lost cause on that end, though he's a far cry from the shutdown-type guy he once was. Asking him to mark Nash's man like Grant Hill did for several years in Phoenix may be too tall of an order for Bryant at this point in his career.
Not that Nash is a lousy defender in every respect. His on-court intelligence extends to the defensive end, where he understands how to play the angles and feed his opponents into help.
That being said, Nash lacks the sheer footspeed to stay in front of his man. That, along with Kobe's own issues, shifts an even greater defensive burden to Howard, who is All-World when it comes to patrolling the paint and protecting the rim but can't reasonably be expected to take care of everyone else's assignments.
Especially when those assignments include Dwyane Wade and Ray Allen, not to mention Mario Chalmers, who acquitted himself quite well at times during Miami's most recent run to the title.
Let's not forget, though, about Miami's greatest menace—LeBron James.
Who on the Lakers could even hope to keep that human freight train from bowling his way to the basket at will? Metta World Peace is certainly big enough and has quick enough hands to try, but, like the rest of his aging teammates, the 32-year-old isn't as fast on his feet as he used to be.
Much less fast enough to impede James.
Heck, it's a chore to find anyone on this Earth—much less someone who knows how to play basketball—with the combination of size, speed and athleticism to hang with LeBron on a regular basis.
Not that it can't be done, or that there aren't defenders out there with the chops to give King James trouble. Someone with the length, agility, young legs and lateral quickness of a player like, say, Kevin Durant would seem like a solid candidate to start.
Except, the Lakers don't really have anyone who fits that profile, at least not well enough to be considered anything close to a "LeBron Stopper".
Unless, of course, Devin Ebanks magically transforms into something more closely resembling a replacement-level player at small forward.
Until then, the Lakers will likely be loath to slow LeBron, much less top the Heat.
If Dwight Howard were 100-percent healthy, these concerns about old dudes with slow feet on the perimeter wouldn't be so pressing. After all, if Wade were to get by Kobe, LeBron by Metta or even Chalmers by Nash, Superman would be there to save the day.
Problem is, he might not even be there when the season starts. He's still recovering from late-April back surgery, from which his doctor suggested he'd be fit to return to basketball-related activities in four months.
Well, it's nearly been four months since Dwight went under the knife, and the closest he's come to setting foot on the court was when he waltzed into the Lakers' practice facility in El Segundo for his Purple-and-Gold introduction this past weekend.
The longer it takes Howard's back to heal, the more time he'll need to get in proper basketball shape, the longer it'll take him to work his way into the Lakers' situation and whatever their system will be, and so on and so forth.
Back injuries, too, tend to be rather finicky. There's no telling how well Howard's will hold up over the course of a long, grueling season, especially if he's always left to clean up everyone else's mess defensively.
In the meantime, the Heat should be as close to healthy as can be when the season starts. Dwyane Wade's knee, Chris Bosh's abdomen and Ray Allen's ankle should all be good to go by the time basketball begins again in earnest.
Whether that will matter by the time the playoffs roll around depends on the luck of human anatomy...and on how long it takes Superman to get himself up to speed in his new situation.
Forget about predicting how the Heat and the new-look Lakers match up on paper. Dwight Howard and his new buddies have plenty of work to do in the Western Conference before they can so much as kick dirt onto Miami's title turf.
They should be concerned about the Denver Nuggets, who added Andre Iguodala to a young, speedy, athletic group that nearly ran the Lake Show out of the playoffs last time around.
They certainly need be worried about the San Antonio Spurs, who return all of the principal players from a team that had the best regular-season record in the West and came within two wins of reaching the Finals.
And, of course, all roads to the Western Conference crown run through the Oklahoma City Thunder, who dispatched the Lakers in five games in the second round of the postseason and whose young core of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka is still firmly on the upswing.
That doesn't all mean that the Heat won't or shouldn't be concerned about potentially facing the Lakers in the Finals. Rather, it's the Lakers who should be worried about advancing out of the West before they can reasonably starting aiming for the bull's eye on Miami's collective back.