Charles Barkley says the Lakers now have enough to win the championship. (Joe Proudman / Associated…)
Dwight Howard in purple and gold: a fantasy made real for Lakers fans and a nightmare incarnate for NBA fans elsewhere.
But across the NBA, the Lakers' acquisition and introduction Friday of the former Orlando Magic All-Star center inspired differing reactions from coaches, scouts, analysts and former players.
"That changes the entire landscape of the NBA," said one Western Conference head coach. "They are a very powerful team."
Like Howard, Shaquille O'Nealcame to the Lakers after starting his career in Orlando, a transition that began in 1996 and resulted in three NBA titles from 2000 to '02. O'Neal says Howard, who will get to play alongside a 7-foot All-Star in Pau Gasol, should like the move.
"Now he goes to a team where the pressure is not on him," O'Neal said in a telephone interview. "Of course you've got Mr. [Kobe] Bryant. It's going to be really nice for Dwight to have Pau out there, because you can't turn your head off him. You can't not box him out to go and help on Dwight.
"They are going to be a very dangerous team. They still keep their Twin Towers. As long as they have those two 7-footers, they will be tough to beat."
Unlike traded 7-footer Andrew Bynum, Howard is listed at 6 feet 11, but O'Neal's message is clear.
One Western Conference scout said the Lakers are not automatically NBA title favorites.
"Does this deal change the West? No," the scout said. "Oklahoma City is still the team to beat in the West. But the Lakers are better suited to make a push in the playoffs."
The Lakers lost Bynum in the six-player, four-team deal that sent Bynum to Philadelphia and delivered Howard, point guard Chris Duhon and forward Earl Clark from the Magic. The Lakers will send the Magic forward Josh McRoberts, Christian Eyenga and a protected first-round draft pick in 2017.
With the addition of the recently acquired Steve Nash, a two-time NBA most valuable player, the Lakers' starting lineup of Nash, Howard, Gasol, Metta World Peace and Bryant should be formidable.
"They have the best starting lineup in basketball," former New York Knicks and Houston Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "It fits together well, if Howard is healthy, happy and engaged and willing to be the fourth-best offensive player on the team."
Van Gundy, now an ABC analyst, continued, "Dwight Howard is the best pick-and-roll big man in the game as far as rolling to the rim and he's a great screen setter. His offensive game in the post is elementary. He's got a high turnover rate and he's a horrible free-throw shooter. He's got to cede some of what he wants for what's best for the team.
"He makes them an elite defensive and rebounding team right off the bat. He's that good. And he's got a superior basketball IQ as well. If he willingly plays the role that he should, I see no reason why they won't go deep into the playoffs."
One Eastern Conference scout said he believes the new Lakers lineup will be "terrific" together and that with Howard, "Pau gets to now float to the perimeter and not have to bang so much."
Another Western Conference scout said, "The Lakers will now become a high volume pick-and-roll team. They will run so many pick and rolls because of the strength of Steve Nash in pick and rolls and Dwight Howard in pick and rolls. And we haven't even discussed Kobe."
The scout added that Howard will also help Nash on defense: "Well, it's a little easier if you have a guy behind you that is one of the better defensive shot blockers to cover your blemishes."
While Howard's injured back is still a concern, TNT analyst and former NBA star Charles Barkley believes this move could bring the Lakers their 17th NBA championship.
"It's enough to win the world championship," Barkley said. "[Howard] can play power forward. He's athletic enough to play power forward and I think this just makes the Lakers the team to beat."