LA Lakers: Why the Lakers Should Pursue Chris Paul, Not Dwight Howard

Evan BarnesContributor IIIMay 11, 2011

As Kobe Bryant transitions to the end of his career, Chris Paul would be the best fit as the Lakers' next star
As Kobe Bryant transitions to the end of his career, Chris Paul would be the best fit as the Lakers' next starJeff Gross/Getty Images

The Lakers are back in a place they haven't been in since 2003: A team in flux after a surprising second round exit and in need of some drastic upgrades.

Like those Lakers who were fresh off a three-peat, this team needs something to stay among the contenders and balance the need to end Kobe Bryant's career on a good note while planning for the future.

The answer lies not in Orlando, but in New Orleans.

Chris Paul should be the Lakers' No. 1 priority because the Lakers have always built around great guards, not big men.

The greatest Lakers are Magic Johnson, Bryant, Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O'Neal, Elgin Baylor. Besides Kareem and Shaq, all of them are guards and forwards who made the team better having the ball in their hands to create on the perimeter.

As good as Dwight Howard is, he's not offensively as good as Shaq, Kareem or Wilt Chamberlain. He'll add a defensive toughness to the Lakers, but their biggest concern isn't the interior. Dallas showed the world that the Lakers have old guards who can't defend the perimeter or slashing point guards.

The NBA is currently a point guard league. Nearly every contender has a top flight point guard and two of the last three No. 1 overall picks have been point guards (Derrick Rose and John Wall). This year's draft is following suit with Duke PG Kyrie Irving projected as the No. 1 overall pick.

Howard is one of the best defensive players in the post and is a slight upgrade over Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. Yet, if Howard comes in with Derek Fisher, Bryant and Steve Blake giving him the ball, his role is virtually no different than Bynum or Gasol.

Shaq, Tim Duncan, Moses Malone and Hakeem Olajuwon are the only big men in the last 30 years who were centerpieces to a title, and they benefited from great, young perimeter players surrounding them. Howard wouldn't find that in LA, and he'd feel like he's back in Orlando except in a better media market.

The teams expected to rule the next decade will be Chicago, Miami and Oklahoma City. Two of the three have elite point guards, while Miami benefits from having LeBron James and Dwyane Wade share the perimeter.

If the Lakers want to stay relevant, they have to build around a point guard and Paul is the best fit.

He showed the Lakers in the first round why he's the best pure point guard in the league. He can score at will, set teammates up perfectly, make surrounding players better and can defend as well as any guard in the league. He helped a mediocre Hornets team give the Lakers a better than expected fight minus David West, so one can imagine what he'd do with a better squad.

Paul also has star-making potential with his Magic-like personality. He brought life to New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and he'll be embraced the same way in L.A. He gives Nike two big names to promote in L.A. besides Bryant.

He'll also make Kobe's last few years easier by taking the ball out of his hands and giving him another scoring option. The sad truth nobody is talking about is that Kobe needs a younger running mate that he respects to help share the burden of leading the team and it's clear that Gasol is not that guy.

It's easier to find a great big man than an established point guard. A point guard can make a big man better and it's time for the Lakers to find their next best guard after Kobe retires.

The Lakers can then focus on adding other pieces via draft or trades.

Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak has followed tradition well by making great moves over the years that fit the Lakers' needs, not just chase star power.

It's time to follow tradition once again and chase the point guard of the future, not the next Shaq.