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Did the Lakers just become the NBA’s best team? Looks like it.

Aug 10, 2012, 12:57 AM EDT

Kobe Bryant Dwight Howard Getty Images

Four years ago at the trade deadline, the Los Angeles Lakers made what was considered a blockbuster move — they traded a package centered around Marc Gasol (although at the time we thought it was Kwame Brown) for Pau Gasol. Pairing him with Kobe Bryant led the Lakers to three straight finals and two NBA titles.

After tonight, Pau Gasol may be offensive option No. 4 on the Lakers.

To what is certainly the frustration and consternation of Mark Cuban and other owners (nice competitive balance), the Lakers have had the best offseason they have had since 1996 (getting Shaquille O’Neal and drafting Kobe Bryant). The Lakers were able to work trades for both point guard Steve Nash and the most dominant center on the planet today, Dwight Howard.

The Lakers are now the team best positioned to challenge the Miami Heat for the NBA title, they can match up in raw talent. And with real strengths at point guard and center — the two weakest links of the Heat — Los Angeles may well be the best team in the NBA.

We have 82 games and a long playoff run to formally answer the question of who is best, but the Lakers are in that conversation. Yes, the Oklahoma City Thunder certainly are as well. But the Lakers suddenly look like the team to beat. Again.

Their starting five will be Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard. That can compete with the Heat and Thunder, and Howard instantly improves the Laker team defense dramatically. The bench isn’t terribly impressive — Antawn Jamison, Steve Blake, Josh McRoberts, Jordan Hill, Chris Duhon and Earl Clark (the later two filler on the trade) — but it doesn’t really have to be.

There will be a lot of burden on coach Mike Brown’s shoulders to fit it all the pieces together. The Lakers have talked about running a Princeton style offense and those kind of sets certainly can work, Gasol passes well as a big and in the Olympics we have seen Kobe work well from off the ball on the weak side.

But if you have Steve Nash with Dwight Howard and you don’t run a lot of 1/5 pick-and-rolls you are a fool.

It is a massive and stunning overhaul and improvement of what was already a good roster. Other owners like to complain about the Lakers advantages of market and money — and those exist — but the Lakers also just tend to be both more patient and smarter than other front offices. This doesn’t keep happening by accident.

Getting Howard does not assure the Lakers of an NBA title.

But they may just have become the team to beat. Even for the Heat.

108 Comments (Feed for Comments)
  1. loungefly74 - Aug 10, 2012 at 9:11 AM

    well…i guess a lesson (actually several) is to be learned by this…the Magic waited too long to maximize their trade-in value for dwight howard…plain n’ simple. not sure who said a few months ago…but they said, the deals are only going to get worse…and they did.

    kudos again to the nugs and sixers for making their teams better. nice job NOT to stand pat.

  2. ebrownwareagle - Aug 10, 2012 at 9:15 AM

    rodge1
    Aug 10, 2012, 8:50 AM EDT
    I’m excited about this trade as a Heat fan. This confirms that Kobe cannot do it on his own and will never compare to MJ! This is a great day in basketball.

    If doing it by yourself is the criteria for being the best ever. Remove MJ from the category as well. You ever heard of a guy by the name of Scottie Pippen. 50 Greatest/HOF/Olympian/All Star. Dennis Rodman, HOF/2xChampion before he came to the bulls. Unless you or y’all saw something I didn’t. He had help too!

    • lebronjamessucks - Aug 15, 2012 at 6:39 AM

      Kobe has nothing to prove.He won 2009-10 NBA Title.And you think Lebron James did it with his own?He left Cleveland because LBJ is the Ultimate King of Cowards.Lebron James legacy was ruin.Lebron James sucks forever.

  3. livingsacrifice86 - Aug 10, 2012 at 9:35 AM

    The Lakers just put up two solid middle fingers to the Heat/Pat Riley and their small ball approach. It will be interesting to see the moves teams make to counter. And while this Lakers lineup is nice, are we sure a Nash/Bryant/MWP/Gasol/Howard is THAT much better than Westbrook/Harden/Durant/Ibaka/Perkins? I don’t think so. Either way, this is gonna be an exciting season!

  4. bucrightoff - Aug 10, 2012 at 10:02 AM

    Is there any reason the watch the NBA until next June? We already know its going to be Miami and the Lakers. Seriously, save the fans a lot of money, cancel the regular season and playoffs and just get to the inevitable Finals matchup.

  5. cantonbound13 - Aug 10, 2012 at 10:21 AM

    Looks like LeBron will only end up with 1 ring in a lockout shortened season.

  6. giselleisasucubus - Aug 10, 2012 at 10:43 AM

    SLOOOOW down everyone, slow down. Yes, the Lakers are loaded, but this team has had issues with “who gets shots” before and it WILL happen again. Yes, they are the favorite in the west now, but to say they have just added Howard and Nash w/out giving up much is wrong. They gave up Bynum, and when was the last time Kobe played a season w/a true pg? This will be interesting, and I am sure Laker fans aren’t assuming anything. Shaq, Kobe, Malone and Payton were a fearsome group too and they self destructed in the finals….Don’t get me wrong, it was a GOOD move, & I’m happy to see the Lakers had to give up something in a trade for once (don’t say Marc Gasol, the Lakers thought he was a scrub) so at least they gave up a huge asset….I am going to stick w/my prediction from 2 weeks ago- Celtics vs. Lakers in the Finals. Miami will lose ultimately because the Celtics are more balanced and better up front, and once the Lakers figure it out, they are going to be tough to beat. Balance….hahaha, Lakers, Heat, Celtics, Thunder, Spurs, still the top 5 teams in the NBA. That lockout really worked ;)

  7. paulhargis53 - Aug 10, 2012 at 10:51 AM

    dirtysanchez: What did your screen name used to be? This ones a new one. I must hav verbally abused you under your old one.
    cornhole: Duhon?! You just rendered anything you post useless, good job!

  8. davincizsp - Aug 10, 2012 at 11:00 AM

    Was wondering…do u guys really think that Nash+Kobe+Howard+Gasol are better than Paydon+Kobe+Shaq+Malone?

    • blueintown - Aug 10, 2012 at 11:09 AM

      Absolutely. Without question.

      • giselleisasucubus - Aug 10, 2012 at 12:25 PM

        Why “without question” would this group be better than the group with Shaq and Kobe in their prime? Actually, the group from 03 was better than this group now. Ask anyone with a clue about the game and they will agree. Yes, Malone was 36 and so was Payton, but Nash is 37, so that is a wash. Malone was older than Gasol is now, but w/Shaq and Kobe, again, in their PRIME years, they are clearly the better group. Listen, I like the lineup the Lakers have put together, but their starting lineup has an average age of 33. People call the Celts old? The Lakers are considerably older across the board. Howard had a back injury and he isn’t exactly Hakeem Olajuwon in the post. What happens if Howard can’t elevate as much? What if Kobe loses a step(don’t ignore this because it looks like it is happening) What if Nash loses a step, which typically occurs in 37 year old players? I bet the Heat will be happy, now the media is going to have a new toy to talk about. ESPN will be in heaven.

      • blueintown - Aug 10, 2012 at 12:39 PM

        No, they would not agree. Gary Payton is not a pure point guard like Nash. That’s not a knock on Payton, he just had a much different skill set. Nash’s skill set is more conducive to an older player. He’ll be fine taking five shots per game and being a distributor. Likewise, Pau Gasol is still much more efficient at this point in his career then Karl Malone was at that point in his. He (Pau) was used poorly last year. A pick and roll with Nash and Gasol will be deadly, and the return to a triangle-esque offense (Princeton) will suit Gasol well. The fact that Shaq and Kobe were in their prime may have proved to be the downfall for that particular year, as it resulted in the season which confirmed that they could no longer co-exist as both of them fancied themselves the alpha of the bunch.

      • giselleisasucubus - Aug 10, 2012 at 3:53 PM

        Yeah, Kobe and Shaq being in their prime was a downfall, even though they were winning title after title before they added these 2 HOFers. Listen, I get that Payton and Nash are different players, but Dwight Howard is NOT Shaq, not even close. Kobe of now is NOT Kobe of 9 years ago. To say that Gasol is more effective at this point than Malone was is basically ignoring the numbers and giving an excuse. Yes, Nash is a better distributor, but he is AWFUL on defense. Payton wasn’t “the Glove”, but he was light years ahead of Nash defensively at that point in his career. So again, if you ask 10 GM’s who is a better group, most are going to say the 03-04 group.

      • blueintown - Aug 10, 2012 at 4:45 PM

        Notwithstanding the fact that you’ve already backtracked from saying “anyone with a clue about the game” would take the ’03 lineup over this lineup to “most of 10 G.M.’s”, let’s review:

        1.) You need to finish the thought of a statement before reacting to it, friend-o. Kobe and Shaq weren’t too fond of each other. I’m not sure if you recall this, but they tended to butt heads quite a bit. To the point where Kobe demanded Shaq be dealt elsewhere shortly after the season because they could not co-exist as two alpha’s in the prime of their career.

        2.) I never said Dwight Howard was as good as or better then Shaq. That would be ridiculous. But he is the best big man playing in an era where skilled bigs are rare.

        3.) The Lakers were not winning “championship after championship” at that point. They had been knocked out in the semi’s the year before, which was the catalyst for acquiring Payton and Malone.

        4.) Of course Kobe today is not Kobe from nine years ago. And? He’s still one of the top shooting guards in the league. Actually, he averaged four more points per game last year then he did in 03-04. That’s not to say he’s better now, but he’s certainly not an 03-04 Karl Malone. Speaking of which..

        5.) Saying Gasol today is more effective then Malone in 03-04 isn’t ignoring numbers or giving any excuses. It’s true. Look at the numbers. Gasol’s 17 and 10 is better then Malone’s 13 and 9. The broken down Malone also missed forty games during the regular season, as well as game 5 of the finals.

        6.) I agree. Nash is atrocious defensively. Again..so what? It’s a good thing he has a three time defensive player of the year to help erase those mistakes. His job isn’t to be a defensive stopper, it’s to facilitate. Something he continues to excel at.

  9. metitometin - Aug 10, 2012 at 11:10 AM

    The NBA is dead to me. Stern has to block this trade. You just can’t have the same
    teams every year getting the top players, while everyone else is stuck with junk. This league has become a joke. It’s as bad as baseball now, which the Yankees destroyed. The Yankees are basically cheating every year, with a payroll a gazillion times greater than any other team. Same thing happening to the NBA. When it’s the same teams that everyone hates year after year, you lose interest. Call me back when we get some competitive balance.

  10. t81o - Aug 10, 2012 at 11:51 AM

    My question for Orlando is, why include the Lakers in this deal? Before Laker fans yell at me, hear me out.

    I know the lakers are trading away Bynum…but not to Orlando. I believe that Orlando is only getting a first round pick (maybe a 2nd, whatever) from LA…and the Lakers are maybe taking Duhon’s contract. Is that enough for Orlando to give Dwight to LA? (well, obvoiusly the Magic thought it was enough).

    Would philly not risk trading for Dwight? I know Dwight did not say he’d re-sign in philly, but I believe the reports say the same about Bynum. So either way, Philly is taking a risk. Plus, imo, I think that Dwight fits in better with philly’s current scheme (athletic, running, defensive minded team) than Bynum does (not to say Bynum won’t fit in or that it’s not a great pickup for philly anyway). But if philly is willing to take teh risk on bynum, would they also risk for howard? (maybe they feel the odds are better to keep bynum since he’s from close by).

    But, if you remove the lakers from this trade, all the other teams invovled could still get everything they want. philly would get the dominant center they desire (in this case, it would be dwight rather than bynum) along with richardson…nuggets would get Iggy…Magic would get all the same pieces they are getting, except not those draft picks from the Lakers (again, i don’t think that is a big deal because those are late picks). who knows, maybe for Dwight, philly would throw in another future 1st rounder…or one of the other picks from this past draft (i think drafted 3 first rounders including the draft day trade with the heat). or maybe denver would have been willing to give an UNPROTECTED 1st if it meant keeping dwight out of the western conference.

    I understand why all the teams, except for the Magic, did the current trade. I think they all improved. But by including the lakers, the Magic did not benefit at all. IF you can get all the same pieces back in return w/ three teams, why add a forth? Just to help the Lakers get better? I can’t imagine that is the goal of the magic, seeing as they already had to witness Shaq going to LA and winning.

    Sure, there’s the argument of shipping him out of the conference…but does that matter? no matter what conference dwight is in, the Magic are not competing for a championship in the next 6-8 years anyway…by that time, Dwight will probably be retired.

  11. buckeye94 - Aug 10, 2012 at 11:56 AM

    I like the trade but I still think the thunder may be the better team. Anyway it just adds fire to the playoffs

  12. xLith - Aug 10, 2012 at 12:27 PM

    Well at least my Rockets got Jeremy Lin *crickets*.

  13. chiadam - Aug 10, 2012 at 12:38 PM

    Maybe now owners will realize that you can’t force a player to want to stay in a small (or cold) market. Warm weather or big cities will always win. You can’t collectively bargain that.

  14. rodge1 - Aug 10, 2012 at 12:45 PM

    @ebrownwareagle

    I totally agree with you. I’m just poking fun at the LeBron-haters that were saying that about him the past 2 years. Those are the same people who said Kobe was better because he had more rings.

  15. paulhargis53 - Aug 10, 2012 at 12:49 PM

    Manchester:

    scoring avg. DH 20.6 AB 18.4
    shots per gm DH 13.5 AB 13.3
    blocks per gm DH 2.1 AB 1.9
    def.rebounds. DH 10.8 AB 8.6

    Looks like virtually the same player to me.
    1 more basket a game, 2 more boards, virtually even on blocks. Same amount of shots, that nullifies both your fitting into the offense and Bynum demanding the ball nonsense.
    There is A wealth of knowledge on the interwebs, you should use it.
    Howard is better infinitesimally. You try to make it sound like there is this huge gap.

    I bet you’re a Laker fan- over the top- not a subjective bone in your body.

    • paleihe - Aug 10, 2012 at 5:47 PM

      Hustle doesn’t show up in the box score. Consistency doesn’t show up in the box score. Check games played…that’s kinda in favor of D12.

    • bozosforall - Aug 11, 2012 at 1:40 AM

      Cry all you want to, pudhogmouth…but the EXPERTS all say that the Lakers are now the team to beat. Eat sh!t, loser boy.

    • manchestermiracle - Aug 11, 2012 at 7:48 PM

      Paul-

      Information is not knowledge….Albert Einstein

      Howard surrounded by the like of Bryant, Nash, Gasol, etc., will equal much better stats than he’s ever had and certainly better than what Bynum will put up in Philly. Bynum won’t have Gasol and Bryant taking the attention of the defense away. In the coming season there WILL be a huge gap.

  16. realfootballfan - Aug 10, 2012 at 12:53 PM

    No, this will be a train wreck. They still have no depth, and those parts don’t fit.

    • grhopper - Aug 10, 2012 at 6:11 PM

      Agreed, It takes more than a starting 5, and that’s assuming Nash can play even 80% of the games. You’re also assuming Howard’s coming back at full strength after back surgery…how’d that work out for Larry Bird? And what do the Lakers do year after next. Nash will be too old, and DH will bolt for more money and better long term future. Lakers are getting old. My money is still on the Thunder.

  17. cantonbound13 - Aug 10, 2012 at 1:12 PM

    Bring back Phil.

  18. trimaster1 - Aug 10, 2012 at 1:48 PM

    It looks good on paper, but paper can’t ascertain how well the chemistry will be.

    Will they get along? Will they be able to keep egos in check? Each of them will get less points and touches. Will they be happy with that? They will want the ball. How well they play together remains to be seen.

    I do NOT expect them to make the Finals this year. Maybe next year.

    • dvsmik3 - Aug 10, 2012 at 7:33 PM

      It looks you don’t understand the difference between professional basketball and pick up games at the park. These are PROFESSIONALS that understand the game on a much deeper level than you or I. I am certain that they will be able to set aside their egos for a championship goal. How about you stop questioning so many things you have no idea about and just watch basketball for what it is. Entertainment.

  19. fanz928 - Aug 11, 2012 at 7:09 PM

    Lebron better than Kobe
    Wade better than Nash
    Dwight better than bosh
    Heats win

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