Lakers News: How Dwight Howard's Decision Will Affect Roster, LA's Title Odds

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistJuly 3, 2020

Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard smiles during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Phoenix Suns Monday, Feb. 10, 2020, in Los Angeles. The Lakers won 125-100. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

It's all eyes on the Los Angeles Lakers as the NBA gets ready to return in Orlando, Florida.

Granted, it's usually all eyes on the Lakers thanks to LeBron James and his crew. It helps that the front office took its time in reeling in JR Smith to play with the team during the restart.

Replacement for Avery Bradley in tow, the Lakers still have some lineup questions to answer via Dwight Howard. It also doesn't hurt to take a step back to analyze the outlook now that the transaction window has closed.

                                 

Dwight Howard's Impact

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Dwight Howard remains a question mark for the Lakers in Orlando.

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Lakers head coach Frank Vogel recently told reporters the team doesn't intend to replace Howard's roster spot if he doesn't join the team ahead of the restart at the end of July, as ESPN's Dave McMenamin noted:

Vogel added the following, according to Mike Trudell of Spectrum SportsNet: "We've been in communication with Dwight the whole way. We don't know what the level of participation is yet. He wants to play. We're hopeful he's able to join us. We're hopeful and optimistic that he'll be able to join us in Orlando."

The Lakers have every reason to hold out hope Howard will be available ahead of the playoffs. He's one of the best reserve centers in the NBA and this year averaged 7.5 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.2 blocks over 62 appearances. Offensively speaking, his field-goal percentage ballooned to 73.2.

If Howard doesn't play, it notably alters the complexion of the approach. JaVale McGee was only averaging 16.8 minutes per game over 61 contests, averaging 6.8 points and 5.8 rebounds in the process. Depending on the opponent, he might see a big uptick.

Howard's absence could mean more Anthony Davis at center, too, which could at least benefit a scorer like Kyle Kuzma. But considering the Lakers already lost a premier defender with Bradley opting out, losing another like Howard underneath the basket for the sake of more scoring could be a risky proposition.

Being without two key players who helped get the Lakers to this point obviously wouldn't be ideal, so it's not hard to see why Vogel remains in a holding pattern on this front.

                         

Title Odds

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

The Lakers' outlook isn't easy to define merely because so much remains unknown, including whether the newly added Smith will see notable playing time and if he will be able to reignite some of that past effectiveness he had with LeBron.

One guy who does like the outlook: Draymond Green.

Green appeared on ESPN's Jalen and Jacoby and said LeBron's mentality is why the Lakers will win it all.

"The Lakers gotta be the favorite because they got LeBron, and he can adjust to anything," Green said Tuesday. "I think he's probably the most disciplined player we've ever seen in the NBA, and that's going to matter going into this bubble. I think having LeBron on your team going into this bubble gives you a slight advantage."

It's hard to argue with the idea, as well as with a player who happens to know a thing or two about LeBron and how his approach will translate.

The Lakers are favorites to win it all at +180 odds (wager $100 to win $180) with Caesars Palace. That's fair enough for a 49-win team sitting first in the Western Conference, with LeBron's approach leading the way to the bubble in Orlando and taking charge once there, on and off the court. Howard's absence might see the odds drift, but not enough to remove the Lakers as favorites.

The title favorites are set to travel to Orlando on Thursday in the final wave to arrive, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium, and partake in the second of two kickoff games against the Los Angeles Clippers on July 30 at 9 p.m. ET.

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