Dwight Howard will help the Lakers defensively; he won the NBA's Defensive… (Jonathan Daniel / Getty…)
For over a year, the Lakers couldn't get themselves out of what appeared to be a little batting slump.
They clearly hit the ball out of the park by landing Chris Paul. But the umpire (NBA Commissioner David Stern) ruled it a foul ball. It then appeared the Lakers whiffed when they traded away Lamar Odom and Derek Fisher. Then they repeatedly hit balls that landed foul. They acquired a promising point guard in Ramon Sessions, but he couldn't handle the playoff pressure. A bloated payroll made Deron Williams skeptical of wearing purple and gold. Harsher tax penalties stemming from the new labor deal convinced the Lakers they needed to save more money.
But they stayed patient at the plate. The Lakers hit a home run by acquiring Steve Nash (three years, $27 million), using the trade exception stemming from the Odom deal to make that happen. The Lakers continued making contact when they signed veteran forward Antawn Jamison for the veteran's minimum ($1.4 million) and re-signed Jordan Hill (two years, $7 million).
PHOTOS: Dwight Howard's Magic days
And now, in acquiring Dwight Howard and ridding themselves of Andrew Bynum's immaturity, the Lakers hit a grand slam.
This time, Stern allowed the Lakers to round the bases. With such a move, the Lakers become NBA championship favorites because Howard substantially helps them in five ways:
1. The Lakers' defense will improve significantly. By nearly every statistical measure, Howard is superior to Bynum on defense. Howard won the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year award in three of the past four seasons. He finished this past season first in rebounds (14.5) and third in blocked shots (2.15); Bynum ranked third on the boards (11.8) and sixth in blocks (1.93). According to Synergy Sports Technology, Howard fared better than Bynum in isolation plays (Howard 25th; Bynum 75th) and on spot-up shots (Howard 46th; Bynum 86th). On paper, Bynum is technically better in pick-and-roll sets (Bynum 31st; Howard 44th). But that doesn't account for plays where Bynum avoided helping out on defense either because of his lack of mobility or effort.
PHOTOS: Dwight Howard's Magic media days
Say what you will about how Howard handled his Orlando exit, but his effort never suffered. That showed the most defensively, which will play a large part in ensuring Mike Brown's staple stays strong. Howard's presence makes everything for his teammates easier. Nash has a more dependable teammate to help out if he gets beat on pick-and-rolls. Kobe Bryant can conserve more energy and use it for his scoring. Although Pau Gasol is a willing defender, he doesn't have the same bruising strength Howard possesses. And with Metta World Peace appearing this off-season in peak condition, it's likely he can help complement Howard's paint presence by stopping wing players along the perimeter.
2. Howard's athleticism will make the Lakers a faster team. With or without Howard, the Lakers weren't going to have problems scoring. Nash remains a master at running the pick-and-roll. Bryant would score more off the ball instead of in isolation. Gasol could receive easier looks through the spacing and passing the Princeton offense provides. And Bynum would've still been a force in the paint. But those elements masked an uncomfortable reality. The Lakers were still a slow team.
Howard, at age 26, possesses a burst of speed that no other big man can match. Because Howard's role on offense will prove drastically different than his one-man-show role with the Magic, the best way to maximize touches will involve "rim running." That's the term Brown uses to describe his frontcourt players immediately sprinting to the basket after a defensive stop or a rebound. Bynum performed that duty with mixed success, partly out of a lack of mobility and partly out of inconsistent will. With Howard, that athletic presence will always be there.
3. Once Howard fully rehabs his back, the Lakers should have no health concerns regarding their center. The moment the hoopla dies down over his arrival, Howard will have to face a key question. How will his back hold up? Howard told The Times' T.J. Simers that it feels fine. The Lakers also likely performed their due diligence in ensuring it won't be a major issue. So even if it's possible Howard would experience limitations at the beginning of the season because of his back, it won't be a long-term issue. Before this past season, Howard had missed only seven games in seven seasons. Meanwhile, Bynum had missed an average of 31 games in the previous four seasons because of numerous injuries. Even if Bynum avoided a major injury last season, his overall health record hardly matches Howard.