With the Dwight Howard saga finally over and the center headed to the Los Angeles Lakers in a four-team blockbuster deal (h/t ESPN), it's time for the NBA paradigm to shift back to actual action on the hardwood.
Due to recent bias, most pundits seem fixated on an "inevitable" NBA Finals meeting between the Lakers and Miami Heat—the NBA's real-life versions of the Avengers and Justice League.
And considering the level of talent on both sides, it's doesn't take a nuclear physicist to figure out why.
Howard and new Lakers point guard Steve Nash, acquired earlier this offseason in a sign-and-trade with the Phoenix Suns, give L.A a combined 35 All-Star appearances among its first six rotation players.
Miami has a "paltry" 33 appearances.
But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. There are plenty of other talented teams that should vie for the Larry O'Brien Trophy come next June.
But how does Howard's move from Orlando to L.A. really swing the 2012 championship race? Here are a few ways.
Goodbye Secondary Western Conference Contenders
Yes that means you, Clippers, Grizzlies and Mavericks. Have fun competing for that second-round ouster, because that's as far as your teams are getting get next season.
There's a reason basketball (and the NBA in particular) is the most predictable sport: It's that talent almost always wins out. Chemistry, team camaraderie and great coaching all go out the window when you have a metric ton of All-Stars.
That's why the Miami Heat won the NBA championship last season. The team had the world's best player playing at his optimum strength.
And that's why with Howard's trade comes the guarantee that either the Lakers, Thunder or Spurs will represent the Western Conference. Each of those three franchises has championship-level individual talent and depth that no other Western Conference team possesses.
The Los Angeles Lakers Are Western Conference Favorites
Of the aforementioned three-headed monster atop the Western Conference, the Lakers have far and away the most talent.
Howard gives L.A. a killer pairing of the best center and shooting guard in the league. The last time Kobe Bryant played with someone of Howard's caliber, it was Shaquille O'Neal—and we all know how that worked out.
That's before even mentioning incumbent power forward Pau Gasol, one of the most skilled big men of the past decade, a player who can stretch out to 18 feet and deconstruct opponents in the post.
Or Steve Nash, one of the five best passers in the NBA's history and a 53-percent shooter last season.
Or new Lakers sixth man Antawn Jamison, who at 36 years old still scored 17.1 points per game last season for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
These Lakers are a Frankenseinian freak show built by general manager Mitch Kupchak to win titles now and only now. There is no four-year window for this Lakers nucleus, and that may make the team even more dangerous than its talent indicates.
The Last Team Miami Wants to See in the NBA Finals is the Lakers
Against teams with slower, plodding centers (like Oklahoma City), that lineup is a matchup nightmare.
Bosh uses his quickness advantage to blow past defenses on overly aggressive closeouts. James' newly refined post game forces consistent double-teams, which leaves shooters (which this year will often be Ray Allen) wide open for three-pointers.
With Howard and Gasol in the Lakers' middle, L.A. won't have any problems defending the vaunted Miami lineup. Both Laker big men have the athleticism and basketball intelligence to render Miami's halfcourt set plays ineffective, forcing James and Dwayne Wade back into their 2011 hero-ball tag team.
Which is exactly how the Heat lost the first time they played in the NBA Finals.
So while the Lakers haven't quite replaced Miami as championship favorites, Los Angeles' new superstar-laden roster makes up the absolute last team the defending champs want to see next June.