The Los Angeles Lakers pulled off the biggest move of the summer last week when they traded for Dwight Howard. It is a move that will shake up the landscape of the NBA, as is always a case when a player as talented as Howard switches teams.
The Lakers finished the season last year as the 3-seed in the Western Conference behind the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder. Now they are being talked about as potentially the NBA title favorites.
But should we be talking about them already as title favorites?
The Lakers starting five for next season will certainly be an impressive one. They are returning Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace from last year and now adding Howard and Steve Nash.
The pieces should fit in seamlessly. This won’t be a case like we saw in 2011, when LeBron, Wade and Bosh joined together in Miami and it took some time getting used to. Nash’s selflessness will ensure this more than anything.
With Nash running the show, he will get the ball to players when and where they need it. Kobe is at a point in his career where he shouldn’t stand in the way of this too much. Expect a bounce back season from Gasol too now teamed with Nash.
There is some potential for the personalities to not exactly gel. Howard is known as a kind of jokester that doesn’t take things seriously enough. He was able to be this way in Orlando as the clear alpha-dog of the team playing for a franchise that had so much invested in him. No one was going to call him out for that behavior but that will change in L.A. playing alongside Kobe.
There is the question of age too. Nash is 38 and Kobe is an old 33. Both are on the decline but showed last year they can still play at an elite level. It will continue to become harder to sustain that level but playing with Howard will make it easier.
It has been easy to forget just how valuable Howard has been during all of the recent drama. Before Howard ruined his image, he was deservedly so considered one of the most valuable players in the league. The effect Howard had in Orlando was remarkable, leading that team to high playoff seeds and anchoring one of the most efficient defenses in the NBA with little support around him.
Howard did get injured this past season and is expected to miss the beginning of next season. If he can get back to 100 percent, playing at the level he has shown in the past, the Lakers may very well emerge as NBA title favorites.
Of course there are a few teams that would like to have a say in this. The Miami Heat are coming off an NBA championship season last year with LeBron James playing as well as he ever has. The Heat made some noise this offseason too adding Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis to the roster.
In the West, the Thunder, Spurs and Clippers are all returning very formidable teams that will be able to compete with the Lakers. The Thunder got to the NBA Finals with a very impressive playoff run through the West’s elite and are only expected to improve upon that next season with the experience they gained.
We know what to expect from the Heat and Thunder. The Lakers are more of a wild card and that’s why they shouldn’t be called the title favorites just yet. We need to see what they do on the floor first and until then, the league still belongs to the Heat and Thunder.