Orlando center Dwight Howard smiles during a game against the Miami Heat… (Sam Greenwood / Getty Images )
At a time when they felt the extra financial pinch stemmed from the new labor deal, the Lakers still understood the value it takes to build a championship roster. At a time when they could've gone for cheaper, the Lakers went better. At a time when they could've walked away with their chips to save for a long-term future, they put all their chips in to hit the jackpot.
With the Lakers acquiring Dwight Howard from the Orlando Magic, they followed through on Mitch Kupchak's vow that "we'll try to hit a home run." The Lakers didn't just belt one out of the park. After acquiring the Steve Nash, signing reserve Antawn Jamison to the veteran's minimum, keeping key reserve Jordan Hill and retaining Pau Gasol, the Lakers hit a grand slam.
PHOTOS: Dwight Howard’s Magic days
Suddenly, the botched Chris Paul trade that led many to believe the NBA's involvement set the organization back at least five years seems irrelevant. See, the Lakers are championship favorites entering the 2012-13 season with a roster that looks more dangerous than how the team would've looked had NBA Commissioner David Stern not interfered last season.
Paul would've run crossover dribbles to the basket. Kobe Bryant would have relieved ballhandling duties so he can score more in the post and on the elbows. Andrew Bynum would instantly produce on offense in the post, thanks to his development and Paul's precise passing. But Nash can still run pick-and-rolls with similar efficiency as Paul. Bryant still won't have to handle the ball as much and score in more efficient fashion. Howard will prove more dominant than Bynum ever would after playing through most of his career as a one-man show. Gasol also will be there to ensure the crisp passing, spacing and team play the Princeton offense demands.
There's still some Laker fans who believe they would've been fine enough keeping Bynum. But with his well-documented maturity issues, the Lakers couldn't afford to take that chance.
PHOTOS: Dwight Howard's Magic media days
Sure, now questions emerge about Howard. But they all have a valid rebuttal.
How does his back feel? Howard may have extended rehab on his surgically-treated back, but he's only missed seven games in his eight-year career. Besides, the Lakers should have enough starting lineup depth in Bryant, Nash, Gasol and Metta World Peace to absorb any temporary limitation.
Can Howard handle a reduced role? He and Bryant had a well-documented phone conversation last season where the Superman didn't like how the Black Mamba outlined his role below himself and even Gasol. Bryant and Howard respect each other and it should sort itself out soon. Both Bryant and Howard know they have a great chance at winning a title together if they make the necessary sacrifices.
Will Howard sign an extension with the Lakers after this season? Various reports say no. But that's fine. Once Howard's enamored with the Hollywood spotlight, the strong supporting cast and the winning, there's no way he could stop wearing purple and gold.
The only uncertainy involves whether Coach Mike Brown could handle all this talent after managing a less-than-complete roster with a mixed bag. But whatever his shortcomings last season, Brown still fought through it and made adjustments. He'll likely do the same with a better roster.
To think, it seemed only three months ago after an early playoff exit to the Oklahoma City Thunder that the Lakers' championship aura was crumbling. But Kupchak, executive Jim Buss and owner Jerry Buss didn't let that happen.
They didn't shy away from spending despite more punitive tax measures. On Jim Buss' urging, Kupchak reached out to Nash despite the initial signals that suggested the former Sun would never sign with the Lakers. They remained patient throughout the never-ending saga regarding Howard's future. And despite the short-term hits they took with the botched Paul trade and shipping Odom to Dallas, the Lakers' front office still kept their head afloat.
The Lakers are suddenly back in familar territory again. They are NBA championship favorites.
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