With Dwight Howard saying he will not sign a contract extension with the… (Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images )
Amid the confusion of a Lakers postseason dominated by an embattled new coach and a disengaged old star, a bit of real hope has emerged.
It showed up Monday on the other side of the world. It came from the mouth of a guy who plays on the other side of the country.
Yet it was a clear nudge upon slumping Lakers shoulders, a giant wink from the NBA's best center to a team that could turn him into a champion.
While touring Italy, Dwight Howard told reporters, again, that he would not sign a contract extension with the Orlando Magic and planned to become a free agent after next season.
Lakers, that's your cue. Lakers, do you need to have it dunked on your heads?
Trade for Dwight Howard. Tug on the new Superman's cape. Take up with a rim-rattling, backboard-bouncing set of giant biceps from Orlando … again.
The Lakers should trade Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom for Howard and J.J. Redick, and they should do it now, and before you start crying over spilled centers, stuff a black knee brace in it and let me explain.
Within the odd confines of the current salary cap, the deal works. Within the strange alignment of both team's lineups, the deal fits. Even within the intricacies of the respective cultures, the deal makes complete sense.
Start with Orlando. You don't think the Magic could stomach trading a guy who ranks first or second in franchise history in every important statistic? At this point, I don't think the Magic could stomach not trading him.
The trade would save face for a franchise that cannot afford the Shaq burn of another big free-agent center walking away and leaving them with nothing. Even if Howard would follow Shaquille O'Neal to the same place where Shaq won three championships, at least this time, warm bodies would be coming in the other direction.
The trade would also allow the team to avoid the spectacle of Howard's playing out his lame-duck season with a "For Sale" sign taped to his forehead, leading to the sort of Carmelo Anthony turmoil that swallowed up the most recent Denver Nuggets season.
Why would the Magic want Bynum and Odom? For the same reason the Lakers still covet them. And, oh yeah, if the Magic eventually doesn't like either guy, it could shed both contracts after one season for a buyout of about $2.5 million total, making this the sort of no-lose deal that Orlando has to make to survive the nasty local reaction that would surround the move.
Now for the Lakers. The buzz would be huge. The benefits would be obvious. One would have to actually agree with what I've been preaching for the last year about the disposability of the injury-prone Bynum, but that's no longer a big leap even for his most ardent supporters. That Bynum trade I once proposed for Anthony? They should have done it. The added scorer and energy might have allowed them to survive Dallas. They can't make that same mistake again.
This trade would allow the Lakers to make at least two more serious runs at a championship while Kobe Bryant is still upright. Bryant, who doesn't seem too thrilled about anything right now, would love this deal.
The trade would also be like laying out a lavish welcome buffet for their new defense-minded coach, seeing as Howard has won the NBA's defensive player of the year award three years in a row. Mike Brown would love this deal.
The trade would also allow Pau Gasol to move permanently to power forward, where he's always been more comfortable, while placing less pressure on the other Lakers to do the sort of dirty work that Howard loves. My favorite Howard statistic? Last season he led the league with 908 points inside five feet, 138 points more than his closest competitor.
The Lakers would sorely miss the true champion and strong locker room presence that is Odom, and Redick would be scant consolation. But the Magic probably wouldn't make this deal without Odom, so the Lakers would have no choice.
The only other way this trade could not be made is if Howard signed a new deal with the Magic. But after saying he was going to play out his contract, he also told reporters that he informed the Magic of guidelines that could make it impossible for him to stay.
"I just told them, 'We've got to have guys who are going to play hard 48 minutes and who are going to battle the other team, who are going to fight night in and night out for a championship," he said, according to NBA.com.
Since the Magic can only make minor adjustments without trading Howard, this sort of culture change seems unlikely, something even Howard admitted.
"It's off and on," he said of his teammates' desire. "Sometimes guys are there whole-heartedly and then sometimes I've had teammates allow people getting in their ears, and things like that affect the way that they play and approach the game."
That happens with team officials too. Folks have recently been getting into the Buss family's ears, everyone wondering, who's in charge, who's watching Kobe, how is this new era going to work?
Stop the simmering. End the uncertainty. Trade for Dwight Howard.