February 25, 2011; Orlando FL, USA; Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard (12) holds the ball as Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant (35) defends during the second quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

NBA Trades: Are LA Lakers West Favorites If They Land Dwight Howard?


The Los Angeles Lakers have emerged as the frontrunner to land Dwight Howard this offseason. The potential deal that would send Howard to L.A. is a 3-team trade between the Lakers, Magic and Cavaliers.

The deal has a potential snag with Cleveland wanting Andrew Bynum to say he’ll extend past next season but even so, the Lakers are the most likely destination for Howard right now.

The idea of Howard playing alongside Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol for the Lakers is scary to think about. Howard is one of, if not the most valuable player in the league with how he affects the game.

Would the Lakers surpass the Oklahoma City Thunder as the favorites to come out of the Western Conference if they land Howard? Would they become the NBA title favorites?

Not so fast. It shouldn’t be forgotten what OKC did last season making it to the NBA Finals. They deserve to be recognized as the best in the West until they are dethroned even if Howard is wearing purple and gold at the start of next season.

The Lakers have already drastically improved their team for next season by trading for Nash. The knock on L.A. the past few seasons was that they needed a point guard. With Kobe’s skills fading, the team now needed a true point to help him run the show.

Nash is more than a true point. He’s one of the best ever and while it’s hard to imagine at first how he and Kobe will mesh in the same uniform, you just kind of know they’ll figure it out.

Nash wasn’t going to solve all of their problems though. At 38, Nash is still one of the best point guards in the league offensively but struggles on defense as much as he ever has. The league and Western Conference in particular is so loaded with talented point guards these days that could become a real problem.

How do you solve Nash’s defensive woes? Howard would be that answer. The Lakers would practically be inviting players to drive past Nash with Howard waiting. No player in the NBA over the past five seasons has made the kind of defensive impact Howard has, turning a cast of mediocre defenders in Orlando to one of the premiere team defenses in the league. If there was ever going to be a way to hide Nash on defense, it would be with Howard patrolling the paint.

But this is still not quite enough to already put the Lakers ahead of the Thunder in the West. We’d definitely have to see them in action first before really knowing if they could challenge the Thunder in a playoff series but the Thunder are getting better too.

The Thunder of course have the best young roster in the NBA. Their progression in win percentage and playoff performance each season has been impressive. For next season coming off an NBA Finals appearance, there’s no reason to think they’ll take a step back.

The most talented team can always dictate how far they go in this league. The Thunder are that next to any other roster in the NBA. Team USA Basketball is comprised of 25 percent Thunder players. They are that good.

Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden are only going to get better. The rest of the Thunder team compliments their Big 3 making them tailor made to take down this Lakers team.

Thunder GM Sam Presti had the Lakers in mind when constructing this roster. That’s why they traded for Kendrick Perkins. He knows that the Lakers will always be around in the West and making sure you can take them down will in the long run always be the No. 1 priority.

Durant is going to be a mismatch problem for any team including the Lakers. Metta World Peace may very likely be out their door and the defensive options to throw on Durant will be slim for L.A.

Westbrook is the greatest problem though. We know Nash can’t stay in front of him because we found out no one could stay in front of him last season. He will continue to do whatever he wants against the Lakers and since he gets better every season, that will be even more devastating of a thing next year.

Dealing with the Lakers bigs won’t be a problem for OKC either. In fact, the Thunder would prefer that to having to go small and try and match up with LeBron James at the four. Perkins and Serge Ibaka are more than capable of slowing down a Howard and Gasol duo enough to still win a series.

Getting back to the NBA Finals will become more difficult if Howard is on the Lakers next season though. There’s no questioning that but there should also be no questioning of the Thunder, what they are capable of and what they are committed to. They will be ready for whatever challenge comes their way and have shown that it’s probably a good idea to bet on them at the end of the day.

Thunder fans don’t have to worry yet. They are safe atop the Western Conference and no one is challenging them quite yet. The Lakers have emerged as the team with the best chance especially if they land Howard but they aren’t the team to beat yet.

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Tags: Andrew Bynum Dwight Howard James Harden Kendrick Perkins Kevin Durant Kobe Bryant Los Angeles Lakers NBA Finals Oklahoma City Thunder Pau Gasol Russell Westbrook Serge Ibaka Steve Nash

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