I knew when Jon Barry opened his mouth and said the words Dwight Howard and L.A. Lakers in the same sentence this would happen.
Then Magic Johnson poured gasoline on the fire the next day when he talked about "blowing up" the roster.
Now Laker fans everywhere expect their team to pull off a series of unrealistic trades and signings to completely destroy a roster that won two championships. Gone will be Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Derek Fisher, Ron Artest and Shannon Brown. Kobe will be the only returning Laker next season.
Most of this seems to be speculation with a whole helping of reality taken out. So here are some of the speculations, and I will add the reality.
Speculation: The Lakers are going to blow up their roster.
Basically everyone in Lakerland feels this season was wasted. Kobe even said it. This team obviously can't win anything; they're old and over the hill. Pau Gasol is soft and can't handle his girlfriend dumping him. Andrew Bynum is never going to be healthy, he's a bust and overpaid. Ron Artest is crazy and Lamar Odom is too busy being a reality TV star. Derek Fisher is 96 years old, and they have no bench. Time to make WHOLESALE changes.
With the reality: Why blow up the roster?
The Lakers won 57 games this season, had the second-best record in the Western Conference and made it to the second round of the playoffs. Sure, they were embarrassed and got swept out of the playoffs by Dallas, but so what. There are 30 teams in the NBA and at the end of the season only one team is happy.
This season it won't be the Lakers, but it also won't be the Spurs, Magic or Celtics. Those three teams also had very high expectations and none of them lived up to them. In fact, of the three, only the Celtics made it out the first round. If you look at the landscape of the Western Conference, the only team that is a real threat in the next two seasons are the Thunder.
The Mavs and Spurs are both old, the Blazers and Grizzlies are too inconsistent, the Nuggets are not quite sure what direction they are going in after this season and the Hornets have no owner. With the exception of the Thunder who scares you in that group?
The Lakers were playing for a three-peat, so it's not like they won championships five years ago. Maybe Gasol was distracted by his girlfriend breaking up with him, but why does that mean he should be traded?
When not "heartbroken," he's a force in the post and tough to contain. Plus, she can't break up with him again next year, so what's the problem? I've seen pictures of her and I'd probably be a little upset too guys, and just because Pau makes millions of dollars doesn't mean he isn't human. Besides, I remember hearing some nasty rumors last season about why LeBron James "quit" on his team, and I don't think they were true either. So why pay attention to these rumors?
Speculation: The Lakers are going to get Chris Paul and Dwight Howard
The Lakers need to retool, and whenever they need new talent they just rob other teams of their stars.
It must be a rule in the NBA or something.
So the Lakers will trade Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom to the Magic for Dwight Howard and then trade Pau Gasol and Ron Artest to the Hornets for Chris Paul. Those trades are fair for all the teams involved because Howard and Paul are going to leave after next season anyways, so the Lakers should take what they can get or risk getting nothing for them in return.
With the reality: There is virtually no way the Lakers can add either of those guys, let alone both.
There I've said it, it's out in the open. Take a few moments and take a few deep breaths before you continue.
The thing is that the Lakers don't have anything to trade for those guys. Don't be fooled by the Pau Gasol trade from the Grizzlies, that was a scenario that does not exist right now. Those Grizzlies were being sold and they needed to clear cap room. Gasol's contract was going to come up soon and they weren't going to re-sign him, because they knew they would never win in the postseason with him. Did they get junk for him? Mostly, but they also got a pretty good center in the deal.
That scenario does not apply to any part of this one.
Neither Howard nor Paul are underachievers who don't force their teams to be better. They are both franchise players. They are both the best, or arguably the best, players at their positions and are among their respective franchise's all-time greats. Gasol was none of those things.
The Magic are a flourishing franchise that has many other contracts that they can cut before they need to dump Howard to save money. They are a top three or four team in their conference, which is in the top ten in the NBA in attendance, and they have the leading vote-getter in the NBA All-Star game for three straight years.
They are two years removed from an NBA Finals appearance and there is really no reason to believe they are far from making another title run. Howard is the kind of player that can dominate games on both ends of the court and carry a team to the promise land.
The Hornets are in a bit of a murky spot financially. They are run by the NBA, while they try to find an owner, but that doesn't mean they will dump Chris Paul. Paul is the only true attraction on that team and the only reason people pay to watch the Hornets play.
They can't just give him away and not get a player that has his impact on ticket sales or they will have no way of convincing someone to buy them. Add to that Paul is a perennial All-Star and arguably the best point guard in a league that has become more tailored to point guards, and you can see that he won't be easy to acquire.
Which brings me to the original point that the Lakers don't have enough to get either Howard or Paul, let alone both.
Why would the Magic want a package of Bynum and Gasol or Bynum and Odom for Howard? If they truly are "forced" to trade him because they are afraid to lose him, they can get WAY more for him elsewhere. There are plenty of teams with young talent that could put together a package for Howard that includes young talent that would enable the Magic to rebuild their roster.The Lakers can only offer old bloated contracts to go with Bynum.
If the Lakers can't win a championship with Gasol and Bynum AND Kobe, why would the Magic be interested?
This fallacy that the Magic can't build a roster around Howard is also just plain wrong. The Magic have a number of very tradeable pieces, and they could easily be free of most of their bad contracts this offseason. Don't believe that Gilbert Arenas doesn't have any value. While his contract is large, he has a player option after next season and he can easily opt out if he doesn't like his situation.
Jameer Nelson and J.J Reddick are both young and have manageable contracts. The only terrible contract on the Magic's roster is Turkoglu, and he can easily be voided or bought out. The Magic are months away from cap flexibility.
The Hornets are in a similar situation, financially. They are currently $10 million under the cap and with both David West and Carl Landry on the roster, they can afford to trade size for a wing player.
Even a player like Emeka Okafor will have value to the right team like the Pacers, which is a team that needs an established post scorer and is willing to trade an established perimeter scorer to get one. The Rockets are also in need of size in the post and may be willing to part with Courtney Lee or Kevin Martin. Add the relative youth of guys like Marco Bellinelli and Trevor Ariza and the Hornets are not an unappealing team by any stretch.
The Ultimate Reality: The Lakers problem is their lack of depth and some outside influences.
Fix those problems and they are a title contender again. They don't need to make wholesale changes. Find a team willing to take Ron Artest. They never should have signed him in the first place. They won a championship with Ariza then signed a guy like Artest who is a known team destroyer? That was a mistake, as they lost more than athleticism and length when they let Ariza go. They lost youth.
Derek Fisher isn't the problem, his minutes are. He can't be counted on to play 30 minutes a night anymore, but he seems to be okay with 15 to 20. He also has a reasonable contract. They need to find a guy that compliments what Fisher does. Steve Blake is a younger, less athletic, poorer shooting version of Fisher, without the clutch factor or the veteran head on his shoulders. He doesn't produce the intangibles Fisher does, yet he makes more money.
Why is Luke Walton making $12 million over the next two years? These are the contracts that hurt the Lakers. Between Blake, Walton and Artest you have $16.5 million, and that is way too much. But Artest's contract is up after next season, and maybe that is enough to get someone to take the three of them for an overpriced point guard that compliments Fisher.
If the Lakers can fix their depth issue by removing the horrible contracts on their bench and set Odom and Gasol straight, there is no reason they shouldn't be in the title conversation next season.