Christmas came early for Laker fans and got better for basketball fans. When Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls come to Los Angeles on Christmas Day, it will be a battle between two of the best point guards in the league. On the day the NBA lockout was officially resolved, the Chris Paul trade first reported by Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski did more to heal the scars of the labor battle than a letter from David Stern ever could.
Chris Paul is the best pure point guard in the basketball. He is 26 years old. He is about to play for one of the most storied franchises in the NBA alongside one of the greatest players in league history.
While those who support the Purple and Gold should be excited, the question has to be asked: Are the Lakers a better team now?
In order to lure Paul from New Orleans, Los Angeles traded Pau Gasol to Houston and Lamar Odom to the Hornets. The Rockets sent Luis Scola, Kevin Martin, Goran Dragic to New Orleans, who will also receive draft picks as part of the deal.
By getting Paul, the Lakers gave up one of their greatest strengths: size. Gasol is a seven-footer with incredible grace and agility. Odom was the most valuable sixth man in the league who could play against most power forwards in the game and be a huge small forward when the Lakers went big. Now, the Lakers frontcourt consists of the oft-injured Andrew Bynum and whoever ends up manning the power forward position.
Despite this, Los Angeles should profit from the deal. While sacrificing their height was a steep price, the potential of pairing Paul alongside Kobe Bryant was impossible to pass up.
Kobe and Paul will easily be the best point guard/shooting guard combination in the league. Although both are used to playing with the ball in their hands, their skill sets will not overlap as badly as Miami's dynamic duo of Dwyane Wade and LeBron James.
Kobe has shown he possesses the drive and ability to change his game. As his athleticism has slipped, he added a solid post game. It shouldn't be too hard to imagine him adjusting to playing off the ball more than he has in the past. After all, he never played with a point guard of Paul's caliber.
This isn't to say the Lakers are now an invincible force. They will need to add depth to their frontcourt. Bynum's health will always be something to worry about until he proves he can make it through a season unscathed. Their defense at the rim will also be weaker. Like the Big Three in South Beach, an injury to any one of their three key players could derail the season.
However, perhaps the biggest worry for the Lakers is the lockout-shortened training camp. While both Kobe and Paul have incredible basketball IQs, adjusting to new teammates is never an overnight task. New head coach Mike Brown will have his hands full trying to create a system to allow both players to flourish.
The Lakers are a better team with Paul, but it is hard to anoint them as the favorites to win the 2012 NBA Finals. Right now, they have about as much depth as the Heat with a less talented star trio. Oklahoma City is only going to get better and an aging Metta World Peace might have more trouble guarding Kevin Durant than he did in the 2010 playoffs. The Bulls and Celtics both boast deep squads and tremendous defense.
All this could change if the Lakers can flip Bynum for Orlando's Dwight Howard. By keeping Bynum out of the Paul deal, Los Angeles still has a chance to pry Howard away from the Magic. (Personally, I find it hard to believe that Bynum would be the best that Orlando's general manager Otis Smith could get for his superstar, but who knows?) A Big Three of Kobe, Paul and Howard would be the best in the league.
Even if the Lakers cannot continue their tradition of attracting dominant big men, the trade was a win for them. Paul will reduce Kobe's load on offense and give Los Angeles their first great point guard since Magic Johnson was running Showtime. They may not be the title favorites, but they have a team poised to go far into the playoffs.
Finally, basketball is back!
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