According to Mark Medina of The Los Angeles Daily News, Dwight Howard and Josh Smith have spoken about joining forces in the NBA. Smith and Howard grew up together in Atlanta and played on the same AAU team.
Reuniting the two athletes is something worth exploring for the Los Angeles Lakers.
On Mar. 3, Howard's Lakers took down Smith's Hawks by a score of 99-98. Howard finished with 15 rebounds, while Smith tallied 19 points, seven boards, seven assists, three blocks and a steal.
Prior to the game, Howard admitted that playing against Smith isn't the only long-term option, per Medina's report.
...Howard conceding [he and Josh Smith] have repeatedly talked about reliving [their AAU] days and teaming up together.
"We have a couple of times," Howard said. "But unfortunately that hasn't happened."
That is an intriguing scenario to imagine.
By no means is this a suggestion that the Lakers must acquire Smith. No matter how athletically gifted he may be, Smith's price tag will be high and the Lakers have no cap flexibility whatsoever.
For that reason, the only plausible way to get a deal done would be through the sign-and-trade process that the new CBA has made all the more complicated.
What is to be acknowledged, however, is that pairing the two together could breed extremely positive results. For evidence, simply check what Smith has been able to do on his own.
Thus far in 2012-13, Smith is averaging 17.2 points, 8.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 2.0 blocks and 1.2 steals per game. He's doing so with a Player Efficiency Rating of 17.52.
Paired with elite athleticism, Smith's contributions would certainly be welcome on an aging Lakers team.
The Los Angeles Lakers could place Josh Smith at power forward and utilize him as a floor-spacer with Dwight Howard in the middle. They could also switch J-Smoove to the 3 and allow him to run in transition.
Regardless of how L.A. may choose to utilize Smith, he'd offer a significant upgrade over their current situation.
The Western Conference is ruled by athleticism, specifically along the perimeter. Foes such as Kevin Durant are becoming all the more difficult to contain without an equal athlete to maintain defensive position.
This is not to compare Smith the player to Durant, but as an athlete, Smith reigns supreme.
Furthermore, the Lakers are beginning to play second fiddle in their own city. A major reason is the Los Angeles Clippers' high-flying style and their smothering defense.
By adding Smith, the Lakers would have a human highlight reel and defensive stopper of their own—you know, to pair with Howard.
This is why the Lakers must explore this potential acquisition. Not only would Smith provide an athletic finisher on offense, but he'd be the versatile defensive presence that L.A. currently lacks.
Say what you will about his consistency, but Smith has proven capable of thriving in any capacity on defense.
How to Get It Done
The Atlanta Hawks are set to enter free agency with under $22.0 million locked up in guaranteed contracts. In other words, they will have the cap flexibility to land stars or build a significant amount of depth.
Neither of those statements appear likely to include Josh Smith.
According to Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today Sports, Smith is unlikely to re-sign with the Hawks. Chris Broussard of ESPN Insider reports that general manager Danny Ferry has already decided not to re-sign Smith.
Enter the Lakers.
Outside of Dwight Howard, Al Jefferson and the injury-prone Andrew Bynum, the presence of star centers is lacking in the NBA. Assuming the Hawks swing and miss on those three players, they will be left without a star interior presence.
Fortunately for Atlanta, a sign-and-trade including Smith and Pau Gasol works to their benefit.
Gasol may be aging and battling injuries, but he remains one of the league's elite interior presences. He's a dominant force with his back to the basket, as he can both score and facilitate with both hands.
Most importantly, Gasol is fit to play center. In other words, his presence would enable Atlanta to place All-Star Al Horford at his more natural position.
Furthermore, Gasol would join Atlanta on an expiring contract. In other words, the team would have the option of letting Gasol walk if they felt the financial burden was too great to maintain.
If Smith is going to leave, Atlanta may as well get the most out of it—acquiring Gasol for a one-year tryout is certainly a winning situation for the Hawks.
Improving More Than Morale
During a recent interview with Colin Cowherd of ESPN Radio, Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak had powerful words in reference to Dwight Howard. Not only did he praise him, but he referred to him with one phrase that said it all.
"Dwight is our future," Kupchak told "The Herd with Colin Cowherd" on ESPN Radio on Wednesday. "Kobe [Bryant] has one more year on his deal [this year, plus one]. That's all I can bank on or this organization can bank on. I have no idea if he wants to continue to play beyond next year. As of now, we're looking at a two-year window, [and that] plays to the urgency of the situation and how we build the team. ... This team's window to win is this year and next year."
The Lakers have an incredibly talented roster. With Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Metta World Peace along the perimeter, as well as Howard and Pau Gasol in the frontcourt, the skill is there to win a title.
Unfortunately, the athleticism is not.
For that reason, the Lakers would be a much more serious threat to the crown if they were to acquire a dominant athlete. That is what Josh Smith can be, thus changing the face of the Lakers entirely.
If Howard truly is "the future," keeping him happy by bringing a close friend to town might be the best way to go—both on the court and off of it.
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