Sports

It finally happened

Dwight Howard

Dwight Howard introduced at a press conference in El Segundo, Calif. / Kevork Djansezian, Getty Images

The trade that delivered Dwight Howard (and his surgically repaired back) finally happened.

A little late, but some thoughts on the trade:

1. Some excitement in the offseason!

Somehow, Steve Nash became an afterthought. Arguably the Nash acquisition will mean more in terms of actual basketball on the court considering the point guard matchups that have, in one way or another, plagued the Lakers since the Nick van Exel era (ugh!).

The offseason moves also should take some heat off Lakers despot, Jim Buss. Criticized for his ways of operating business, these moves finally put the focus on basketball and doing anything and everything to keep the Lakers competitive in the increasingly difficult NBA stratosphere of superteams.

The excitement was palpable amongst fans awaiting the arrival of Howard, but the true excitement ought to revolve around the other moves that addressed the Lakers’ second Achilles heel – bench depth. The signings of Antwan Jamison and Jody Meeks, in addition to the re-signings of Jordan Hill and Devin Ebanks, added more talent to the Lakers roster that desperately needed it. Presumably, the starters will not need to be overworked playing extra minutes because of an ineffective bench, saving milage on aging players like Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. The roster looks deep and earning minutes and Mike Brown’s rotations should be an interesting subplot during the season.

The trade was also welcome because it avoided trading away a valuable asset in Pau Gasol. This ensured the Lakers also capable of keeping their advantage of having a second seven-footer on the floor. Gasol should breathe easy knowing he’ll be around for a while without feeling any sort of weight from a potential trade. And while Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol were imposing in the frontcourt, their un-athleticism was exposed by Denver’s Kenneth Faried and JaVale MacGee. Howard should be able to cover up Gasol’s weakness in that area, assuming he returns healthy …

2. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Admittedly, I have already called my shot on the Lakers season – 68-14 in the regular season, cruising through the Western Conference, defeating the Miami Heat in six games in the Finals.

But, like I mentioned above, Howard’s back is surgically repaired and he hasn’t committed to any sort of time table for a return to action. I’m not sure he’s even seen the practice court since surgery. Back injuries can be tricky, but hopefully he can make a Bruce Wayne-like comeback for the Lakers.

Plus, Nash isn’t exactly a guy in the middle of his prime – he’s 38 years-old and will be 41 by the end of his contract. Who’s to say Nash won’t pull a hamstring, a calf, twist an ankle. Nash has been able to avoid serious injury throughout his career, but he has been slowing down. His three-point shooting percentage has fallen each year since 2008. (Nash shot 47 percent in 2008; 39 percent last season.)

Same goes for Bryant. He’s one of the hardest working guys in the league, but in homage to Shaq, 34 ain’t 24. Time is ticking on his body. This was the concern going into last season, but Bryant came out firing and had a stellar first half of the season; he inevitably slowed down but was still capable of pulling out some vintage scoring performances later in the season.

3. The league is as stacked as ever.

Miami will have the experience and hunger to defend their title and prove it wasn’t any type of fluke. LeBron James has been terrifying since his playoff run. During the Olympics, it was James who took over late in games and has now (finally) embraced dominating from the post. They’re one year older, yes, but also one year better.

Oklahoma City, with their three Olympians (Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden) should be eager to bounce back from their bitter defeat in the Finals while looking to crush the Lakers bandwagon that surely has motivated them to stop the talk of the Lakers being the best team in the West without even playing a game. Oklahoma City dispatched the Lakers convincingly in five games, and now the Lakers are the favorite? They’re deep too and still matchup well against whatever lineup the Lakers can put on the floor. There’s no need to double team Dwight Howard when Kendrick Perkins is on the floor and their athleticism will likely pose problems for the not fleet footed Nash, World Peace and Gasol.

San Antonio I would compare to the Spanish National Team – on paper, overmatched – but they’re well-coached and have a knack for playing well together, making open jumpers, coming up with loose balls and drawing fouls when they need it most. Those are all things teams must be able to do to win. The Spurs do those things well, and as much as it pains me to write it, they will be near the top of the West again.

4. Andrew Bynum is gone.

That’s pretty much it.

For as talented and capable as he is, you never knew what Andrew Bynum was going to provide on the floor. You never knew if his knees would be able to withstand any type of twist or sprain, let alone another long season. To put it most bluntly, I held my breathe every time he jumped and landed on the floor. It wasn’t fun doing that every time he played considering how often, you know, basketball players jump.

His immaturity and attitude were really grating and his actions just didn’t add up to a guy you should trust being “the man” for a franchise who would rely on him every night. Parking in handicap spaces, carrying a Playmate on his shoulders while rehabbing, nearly killing J.J. Barea, shooting three-pointers and vowing to do it again were just a few things I’m glad the Lakers don’t have to deal with. It also didn’t help, that the all-knowing Jim Buss had refused to involve Bynum in trade discussions and did not want to trade his claim to fame as a basketball guru. That’s Philadelphia’s issue now.

But the Sixers are getting a talented center, and hopefully for them, someone who should be motivated to prove nay sayers wrong and play at a level that would demand a max contract like he will likely seek at season’s end.

5. The season can only end with one result.

Follow me on this: Watching the 2012-2013 season will not be fun. The season will mean nothing if the Lakers don’t win the title.

Granted, Lakers expectations are always high and it’s always “championship or bust,” but this season, this attitude will be heightened to unseen levels.

I, like many other fans, will expect to win every game. I know the Lakers will be favored in nearly every game. I know every game will just be a tune up to the postseason. Every other team will circle the Lakers on their schedule, and they’ll give their best effort while maybe the Lakers will be bored, looking forward to another matchup later in the week, or the postseason.

This isn’t fun.

Losing isn’t fun either, and a team with low expectations is hard to root for. However, with the recent Lakers downturn, it was fun to root for a team that wasn’t expected to win. It was fun to not what you’d get from players like Darius Morris, Andrew Goudelock or Devin Ebanks. In a lockout shortened season, I had little expectations for the Lakers last season; I thought they would be a lottery team.

Sure enough, they were able to put together a good string of games, played well, and exceeded their “low” expectations. I was sucked into rooting for a team that I knew wouldn’t win. Had the Lakers won the 2012 NBA Finals, it would’ve been their finest season and would’ve ranked as one of my favorite recent title teams. But that didn’t happen. It was a fatally flawed team that I found myself rooting for anyway.

That was fun though – hoping for the unexpected. Demanding the expected just isn’t as fun.

I’ll likely change my tune if the Lakers raise their seventeenth championship banner however.

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