As Dwight Howard, the Center Formerly Known as Superman, prepares to take the tipoff against the Dallas Mavericks tonight, we should look at how the Los Angeles Lakers arrived here and where they will be in two years.
Winless in preseason, the Lakers are entering the regular season on a bad foot—literally. Kobe Bryant is day-to-day with a foot injury and Iron Man (Howard's new nickname) is still recovering from his surgically-repaired back. Not the way Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak envisioned things when he wheeled and dealed to land Howard and Steve Nash. He should get used to this feeling because it's only going to get worse as the years go on.
ESPN.com reported that NBA GMs voted that the Lakers had the best offseason, but in order to get Nash in the sign-and-trade with Phoenix, the Lakers had to give up first-round picks in 2013 and 2015 and second-round picks in 2013 and 2014. They also lost Andrew Bynum and their 2017 first-round selection for Howard.
Two-time league MVP Steve Nash is obviously an enormous upgrade from Ramon Sessions, who left by way of free agency, and the four-team megatrade that brought Howard in solidifies Pau Gasol’s position at the 4 and sets up some serious height in downtown LA, rivaled only by the U.S. Bank Tower and Aon Center. As hyperbolic as that may sound, there is nothing extreme about the fact that the Lakers have essentially diminished their chances of winning in the long run.
Howard will test the market when he becomes a free agent next season—and all Laker fans should be aware that he recently told ESPN he originally wanted to be traded to the Brooklyn Nets. Nash is only signed for the next three seasons, and according to Sporting News, Kobe Bryant has said he plans to retire after the 2013-14 season, which is notably the final year of Gasol’s contract.
Assuming Howard does sign a contract extension with the Lakers, that gives the team only two seasons of the Big Four. And realistically, does anyone think Howard would sign a long-term deal if he only has one more year to win a championship?
Not only did the Lakers lose picks to build for the future, they also lack bench depth. This problem is twofold. First, if any of the starters are injured or are in foul trouble, then this leaves the Lakers with some serious holes to fill on the floor. That's obvious.
Second, these bench players do not hold much trade value. Antawn Jamison and Chris Duhon may be the best players on the Lakers' bench, and neither is worth a first-round pick. Jamison is entering his 16th year in the league and, like Kobe, is in the twilight of his career. Duhon came as part of the Howard deal and is averaging only 3.2 PPG and 2.4 APG in his two years with the Orlando Magic.
Unless these players develop into superstars over the next two seasons, the Lakers do not have a championship-caliber team beyond Nash, Bryant, Gasol and Howard.
Kupchak's strategy heading into the offseason is obvious: we need to win a championship while we still have Kobe. I can understand building a team around a superstar, but this all-or-nothing mentality can ruin a franchise, especially when the Miami Heat are the team to beat the next two years.
And that’s if LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh don’t exercise their player options in 2014 and 2015. Not only did the Heat keep their championship squad intact, they added Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis to their bench. As it stands, the additions of Howard and Nash cannot compete for a title against the talent in South Beach this year or next.
The Lakers should enjoy the big offseason splash they made while they can because the forecast predicts a serious drought in the coming years.
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