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NBA Trade Rumors: Breaking Down Favorites in West If Dwight Howard Joins Lakers

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistJuly 31, 2012

March 14, 2011; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard (12) loses control of the ball against the defense of Los Angeles Lakers power forward Pau Gasol (center) and shooting guard Kobe Bryant (24) during the second half at the Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE
Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE

If the latest rumors are correct, Dwight Howard will be heading to the west coast soon enough to put on a purple and gold jersey for the Los Angeles Lakers.

That would, of course, affect the balance of power out west. 

According to Fox Sports Ohio's Sam Amico, league sources are indicating that trade talks are about to re-open, especially concerning a three-team trade involving the Lakers, Orlando Magic and Cleveland Cavaliers

Several recent reports said one target could be the Cavaliers—with Bynum going from the Lakers to the Cavs, Howard going from the Magic to the Lakers, and the Magic receiving multiple unspecified players and draft picks in return. 

Such a trade would be complicated, with the Cavs needing assurances from Bynum that he'd sign an extension. The Cavs would also likely need to be willing to take back a player with a large and lengthy contract from the Magic. On top of all that, sources said, the Magic did not want the spare parts that would have come their way.

Next week, however, that could change. According to sources, it all depends on if the Magic finally accept what they can get for Howard now, or whether they are willing to risk losing him for less, or eventually, for nothing.

So, if Howard is indeed traded across the country, how will the balance of power in the Western Conference look? 

Right now, there are three teams that stand out above the rest in the West. The Memphis Grizzlies, Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Clippers are all fringe contenders, but none are in the same tier as the three elite members of the conference. 

Here's how they stack up, operating under the assumption that Howard is manning the painted area in the Staples Center. 

3. San Antonio Spurs

There is no disrespect meant to the San Antonio Spurs here, as they're basically competing with two super teams. 

With the return of Tim Duncan, Danny Green and Boris Diaw, the Spurs are still title contenders, coming in just below the other two Western powers on the NBA totem pole. 

I may be guilty of selling the Spurs short, as so many seem to do every year, but another year on the tires of Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Stephen Jackson is going to do more harm than good at this point. 

Of course, another year will only help out Kawhi Leonard and Green, but do those really cancel each other out? 

The problem here is that as cohesive as the San Antonio squad may be, its best player—Tony Parker—still isn't as good as multiple players on each of the other two teams. 

2. Oklahoma City Thunder

The defending champions of the conference, the Oklahoma City Thunder managed to improve their roster with the additions of Perry Jones III and Hasheem Thabeet. 

However, those are moves of negligible impact when compared to the monumental acquisitions, actually and hypothetically, made by the Los Angeles Lakers. 

As long as Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are playing together, the Thunder are going to compete for a title. There's no doubt about that, as both superstars are MVP-caliber players. Yes, even Westbrook. 

Between the talent on the roster, the return to the lineup of Eric Maynor and the continuity of the team, I seriously considered keeping the Thunder atop the West. 

Their position at No. 2 should speak to just how stacked this conference has become. 

1. Los Angeles Lakers

The Los Angeles Lakers now look almost nothing like the squad that bowed out of the playoffs at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder. 

Adding Steve Nash as a replacement for Ramon Sessions was a huge upgrade, but that move by itself isn't enough to push the Lakers over the top. 

With a starting five of Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, the Lakers were already in the conversation concerning the best starting five in the league. However, the bench was still just a bit too weak to beat out the Thunder, even after the addition of Antawn Jamison. 

It was close enough that the hypothetical acquisition of Dwight Howard is enough to boost them to No. 1. 

Howard is better than Bynum, but the gap between the two best centers in the league is narrowing. It's still wide enough to be a move of significant impact though. 

If and only if the Lakers trade for Howard, then they'll be the No. 1 team in the No. 1 conference. 

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