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BILL PLASCHKE

Lakers must go after Dwight Howard

L.A. would have to give up Andrew Bynum and probably Lamar Odom or Pau Gasol, but it's what the Lakers need to give them a jolt.

December 06, 2011|Bill Plaschke
  • With Dwight Howard's career in Orlando over, the Lakers need to pounce on the high-profile free agent before another team signs him.
With Dwight Howard's career in Orlando over, the Lakers need to pounce… (Douglas Jones / U.S. Presswire )

The Orlando Magic made its most desperate attempt to court Dwight Howard the other day in a move understood by starry-eyed lovers everywhere.

Bob Vander Weide, their chief executive officer, drained a couple of glasses of wine and phoned Howard at 1 a.m.

I'm a little old for this, but isn't that the definition of "drunk dialing"?

"There was no hard feelings," Vander Weide told the Orlando Sentinel. "The only thing I can say is, maybe I should have waited until the next morning, having been with buddies and having had a couple of glasses of wine."

It has been a while, but I've heard that before. Heck, I've said that before. But this is not about some youthful crush, this is about Dwight Howard, basketball's most celebrated potential free agent, who will probably be traded in the next couple of months before he walks away from the Magic and leaves Orlando with nothing.

This is a big deal. The phone call was a dumb move. It is uncertain how Howard responded, but Tuesday, one day after their late-night chat, Vander Weide resigned. While everyone in the Magic front office claimed the timing was coincidental, the mandate for the next move is clear.

Mitch Kupchak? It's your call.

Maybe he waits until the middle of the day, maybe he keeps the liquor in the cabinet and shoos the buddies from the room, but the Lakers' Kupchak needs to phone the Magic and get this deal done now.

Forget the rumors about the Lakers acquiring both Howard and New Orleans guard Chris Paul. Kupchak has some tricks, but cutting Andrew Bynum in half so the Magic and Hornets could share him isn't one of them.

Forget too the idea that Paul should be the Lakers' top target. Though they need to be quicker and more athletic at point guard, neither trait would offset the loss of power and force inside, which would be suddenly missing with the trade of Bynum. You want Chris Paul throwing alley-oops to Pau Gasol? How long before that loses its oop?

Nope, with your young center serving as your most attractive commodity, you must get a center in return, and there is none better than Howard, and I know I've been writing this until I'm blue in the fingers, but I get the feeling that the Lakers are finally listening.

Jimmy Buss, the guy who drafted Bynum and has protected him ever since, was not made available to answer my questions Tuesday, but the Lakers have already answered the most important one.

Would they finally break down and trade Bynum? The word is, they've already talked to New Orleans about the desperately-seeking-new-scenery Paul, so, yes, I'm guessing they will trade Bynum. They have reportedly had cursory talks with Orlando about Howard, who apparently also wants to leave.

Here's guessing, or hoping, the talks go beyond cursory and the Lakers go after Howard with Bynum and either Lamar Odom or Gasol.

This is what the Lakers do. This is who the Lakers are. Nobody thought they could land Shaquille O'Neal and they did. Nobody thought they could trade for Gasol and they did.

Whenever the Lakers have needed a jolt , the Buss family has given them one. When they open training camp this weekend, they will need a Texas-sized shock to the system.

Other than being a year older, a step slower, and somewhat more dedicated to World Peace, how is

this a different team from the one that was swept last season by the Dallas

Mavericks?

Maybe Mike Brown is more focused than a weary Phil Jackson. Maybe Metta World Peace is more disciplined than Ron Artest. Maybe Steve Blake becomes Steve Blake again. And maybe whatever was ailing Gasol last spring has been cured with off-season workouts or a new haircut.

But people, please, Andrew Bynum is Andrew Bynum. He'll be full of strength and promise somewhere else, but he's a tired and brittle story here. He'll miss the first five games of the season because of his suspension for acting like a knucklehead last spring, then who knows?

In six years here, he has played one full season. In his last four seasons, since suffering his first knee injury in the 2007-08 season, he has missed an average of 31 games a season.

Why would Orlando want him? He's still just 24, and the Magic will think it can fix him. Plus, he will come with Gasol or Odom. And, of course, he is better than what Orlando would get if Howard leaves town via free agency, which is nothing.

The Lakers will have no better chance to get Howard than during these two frantic weeks before the start of the season. They need to take that chance. They need to be the bold organization that they have always been. If they show up Christmas morning looking like last year's Lakers, we will not recognize them.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

twitter.com/billplaschke

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