Sure, everybody hates the Lakers. Kobe Bryant, despite the Shaquille O'Neal-less titles and the years to rehab his image, is still one of the NBA's most polarizing figures. Phil Jackson is gone, but according to Twitter, he's just waiting to swoop back in and take back his team. Even Magic Johnson, the player everybody loved to watch, the man with the million-watt smile, and an unintentional activist for the cause of HIV/AIDS, is now known mostly for being a horrifically biased national television announcer. The Lakers are the Evil Empire.
If they landed Paul and Howard, it would be the Miami Heat times a zillion. The Heat have lazy fans, but they are essentially a made-up team. Hating LeBron James was a fight or flight reaction; Chris Bosh brought it on himself. The Lakers require no such provocation.
No team is more closely watched than the Lakers. Whether audiences want to see them fall, crawl or ball, LA remains a powerful draw. Think about what happened to the Heat when they became not only the fun house team of James and Wade but also the seat of absolute evil. No team was more talked about. No one's games as eagerly anticipated. Stir that in with what the Lakers already have going for, or against, them and we've got a full-fledged cultural event on our hands.
Nobody wants to see the Lakers get a clear shot at another title. The Heat's failings, though, have given just a little bit of hope. Maybe a team like the Bulls or Thunder, who did it the right way, will be the heirs to the throne. Heck, despite Mark Cuban's endless manipulations of the salary cap, the Mavericks come across as humble dudes who, after a long, dark journey, captured the title. Not this instant dynasty mess.
That makes it even safer for us to admit that we really, really want this trade to happen. Sure, it would be nice to see Paul on the team we call our own. Unfortunately, he's not going there. If worse comes to worse, Paul will wait out, or hold out, the year, and then get back to landing in Los Angeles or New York. Some dreams were meant to be out of reach. Not every beautiful woman is your wife.
Paul is hard to dislike. Howard, though, is kind of a goofball, a showboat, like that guy who won't stop telling jokes at a party. He's also the league's most terrifying defensive presence, and not far behind on offense these days. Kobe is Kobe. We want this trade to happen because hating teams is as much a part of sports as loving other ones. And no team would generate hatred like this now-vetoed Lakers.
On the other hand, Paul tossing alley-oops to Howard is the stuff that highlight porn is made of. Factor in Bryant—one of the game's greatest ever—doing his increasingly byzantine thing out on the wing, and the Heat look like a caveman-designed Bentley. This Lakers team would be an offering to the basketball gods, nay, a gift from them to us. Whether or not we want to admit it, that's probably why we most want this trade to happen. Sure, they would be easy to hate. But they would also be the stuff dreams are made of.
Here's how basketball fans are different from those in other sports: We believe in the game itself. We want to watch this team play. It may not be the best thing for all the teams in the league. But it's the best thing for the league, and those who tune in to watch it—religiously, casually, or anywhere in between.