The Lakers' acquisition of Dwight Howard, left, earned the praise… (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles…)
LONDON — Slowly but certainly, as the league gets used to the Lakers moving back toward the forefront, NBA players are voicing more opinions about the Dwight Howard trade.
After a slew of "no comments" Friday, Team USA players were more open Saturday to analyzing the Lakers' part in the 12-player, four-team deal.
"That's what the Lakers do," Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant. "They have great management and ownership to make those moves come to life."
Is Oklahoma City still the team to beat in the Western Conference?
"You never know, but we feel confident about ourselves," Durant said. "The Lakers, we always respect them. We always have battles with them. I'm sure it's going to be even more fun this upcoming season when we play against those guys."
Oklahoma City looked like it would own the West for years thanks to its stable of 23-and-under players. Friday's deal might have changed that.
"Was I surprised? No," Thunder guard James Harden said. "Big market. The Lakers always do a great job of getting good players. It doesn't take away from us at all."
Same question for Harden: Is Oklahoma City still the best in the West?
"Of course," he said.
Forward LeBron James of the NBA champion Miami Heat still refused to comment about the trade, saying he'd rather talk about Sunday's gold medal game between the U.S and Spain.
More opinions eventually will surface, but there hasn't been anything like the backlash that accompanied the quickly vetoed Chris Paul trade in December.
Nor has there been public griping from San Antonio Coach Gregg Popovich . . . yet.
Popovich famously said that a trade committee should be created to review all NBA deals after the Lakers somehow turned Kwame Brown into Pau Gasol in a 2008 trade. They then advanced to three consecutive NBA Finals, winning twice.
U.S. Olympian Carmelo Anthony knows a thing or two about blockbuster trades after being sent from Denver to New York last year.
"It definitely gives them that presence once again," he said. "It definitely makes them another powerhouse in the West or in the NBA as a whole. Right now, it's just a matter of them putting it together to see what happens."
Meanwhile, the Lakers can celebrate — until training camp opens at the end of September.
Coach Mike Brown was already rubbing his hands at the thought of what the Lakers could do with Howard. The phrase that pays is pick-and-roll.
It's been a long time since the Lakers had a center who played great pick-and-roll defense. Shaquille O'Nealwasn't good at it, often refusing to jump out and harass the guard. Andrew Bynum tended to be a step slow, getting caught between moving out on the guard or staying with the opposing big man.
Howard should clean that up a bit.
"He's got some of the greatest feet I've ever seen for a guy of his size," Brown said in a telephone interview. "If he's not the best, he's top three."
Brown was just getting warmed up. There was also offense to discuss.
"When you have a guy like Steve Nash, one of the best pick-and-roll players ever to play the game, and you add a guy like Dwight and you have a guy like Pau, there's a lot you can do with those three guys," he said. "Our pick-and-roll game is going to be a lot different for us."
Brown has three more years on his contract, two of which are fully guaranteed. He's eager to get back to work after the Lakers lost to Oklahoma City in five games in the second round of the playoffs.
"You've got to hand it to Dr. [Jerry] Bussand Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak for going out and getting the pieces they thought they needed," Brown said, name-checking the Lakers' owner, executive vice president and general manager. "They don't ever think about starting from scratch or being patient. They want it now. That's what's exciting about working for this organization."
Howard seemed enthusiastic when he sat down Friday with the Los Angeles media for the first time.
"I've had a lot of dreams about putting on this Lakers jersey and being here in L.A., playing with Kobe Bryant," he said. "And now I'm here."
Howard must have a lot of dreams.
As recently as last month, he wanted to play in Brooklyn. Last year, he assured reporters he wanted to stay with the Magic.
"I want to win a championship in Orlando and I want to do my best to try to get one there," he said during All-Star weekend at Staples Center.
Howard was fairly revealing in that interview, which took place downtown in a luxury-hotel ballroom. In an anecdote that would appeal to Lakers fans, Howard grimaced while looking down at an All-Star T-shirt an NBA official handed him.
It was green. Boston Celtics colors. "I really don't like wearing green," he said. "It's tough playing against those guys."
Howard also said the only food he cooked for himself was hot dogs and white rice, a concoction that would make Lakers trainer Gary Vitti wince.
Howard even took the time to rib Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa when asked to list his best and worst actors.
"I think the mayor of L.A. was pretty bad," he said. "We did a scene together in 'Valentine's Day' and he just couldn't remember any of the lines, so I think they X'd his scene because he couldn't remember the lines. Thanks, Villaraigosa."
So, he'll probably never get a key to the city.
Howard, 26, isn't always the most mature guy in the room, often clowning around to get a laugh.
Durant sympathized with his future conference combatant, whose trade demands hurt his image in Orlando, if not elsewhere.
"Dwight's a good guy, man," Durant said. "The stuff that people were saying about him as far as him wanting to get traded, he's a good guy. I'm glad that he can rest his head at night knowing where he was going to play next season."
Clippers guard Paul probably said it best.
"You knew it was going to happen sooner or later," he said, shaking his head at the Lakers' acumen. "They lost a dominant big man and got another one."