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Lakers hit grand slam with acquisition of Dwight Howard

General Manager Mitch Kupchak said in June that the team would try to hit a home run when attempting to land a marquee player in free agency. Howard increases the Lakers' championship chances.

August 09, 2012|By Ben Bolch
  • Dwight Howard joins a starting lineup that now has 31 combined All-Star game appearances.
Dwight Howard joins a starting lineup that now has 31 combined All-Star… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)

Prince Fielder did not win the most significant home run derby of 2012 in Kansas City, Mo.

You can credit Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak as the biggest victors, crushing the longest of long shots in the executive offices of the Lakers, one story above their practice court in El Segundo.

Kupchak, the Lakers' general manager, created the home run metaphor innocently enough on a day of relative insignificance in late June, when the Lakers selected a pair of late second-rounders in the NBA draft who appear unlikely to make the team.

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"We'll try to hit a home run," Kupchak said at the time of the Lakers' attempts to land a marquee player in free agency.

Did they ever.

If Steve Nash was a three-run homer that gave the Lakers the lead in their division late in the regular season, then Dwight Howard was a 500-foot walk-off grand slam in the World Series.

Go ahead and mark it down, with a Sharpie: The Lakers will make it back to the Finals in 2013. And they will win it.

The addition of Howard, which will become official once the league ratifies the proposed four-team, eight-player deal also involving the Orlando Magic, Denver Nuggets and Philadelphia 76ers, gives the Lakers the most sparkle in their lineup since the team of Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy rocked the Forum on a nightly basis.

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These Lakers might upstage even Showtime.

In Howard, the team is getting a considerable upgrade over Andrew Bynum, even though the latter player was easily the league's second-best center.

With Howard, Lakers fans won't have to wonder whether their starting center has come to play on game nights. A three-time NBA defensive player of the year, Howard brings the consistency and tenacity that the fickle, oversized-headphone-wearing Bynum could only dream about.

Even though he is only two years older than the player he's replacing, Howard, 26, has a gargantuan edge in career scoring (18.4 points per game versus Bynum's 11.7) and won't be prone to taking ill-advised three-pointers or saying dumb things about close-out games being easy.

Combine Howard with an aging-but-still-prolific Kobe Bryant and a rejuvenated Nash, and what's not to like?

Oh, and here's the kicker: The Lakers managed to obtain Howard while hanging on to power forward Pau Gasol, whose heady play and deft passing touch from the high post should mesh perfectly with Nash's pick-and-roll game and Howard's formidable low-post moves.

For those who worry about Howard bolting L.A. faster than a farm girl from Iowa whose Hollywood dreams are quickly dashed, consider the realities of his contract situation: The most lucrative deal for Howard will be for him to re-sign with the Lakers after next season.

In that scenario, according to independent salary-cap expert Larry Coon, Howard could sign a maximum five-year deal worth $116.8 million that includes annual raises of 7.5%. If Howard departed for another team, he could sign for only four years and $86.7 million, receiving 4.5% raises each year.

"We were fully confident if we ever made a move to get Dwight Howard that he would re-sign with us," Buss, the Lakers' executive vice president of player personnel, told NBA TV last month.

Buss and Kupchak made the move.

And now they're circling the bases, once again.

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