Newly acquired Lakers center Dwight Howard speaks at his introductory… (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles…)
Fully immersed in their separate quests for an Olympic gold medal in London, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol received a pleasant interruption from the States.
Dwight Howard officially became a member of the Lakers on Friday, ending their front office's years-long attempt to obtain the NBA's most dynamic center.
If acquiring Steve Nash last month wasn't enough to antagonize Lakers haters, Howard surely did the trick, filling out an ominous starting five after the Lakers' back-to-back flameouts in the Western Conference semifinals.
Thumbing their nose at the NBA's ever-increasing luxury-tax structure, the Lakers added the Orlando Magic center to their burgeoning payroll for the price of Andrew Bynum, Josh McRoberts, Christian Eyenga and two future draft picks in a four-team, 12-player trade.
The Lakers also acquired reserve point guard Chris Duhon and backup big man Earl Clark from Orlando. In a separate deal, they agreed to terms with reserve shooting guard Jodie Meeks on a two-year deal for about $3 million.
The day, though, belonged to Howard, 26, who has one year left on his contract for $19.5 million.
It makes more sense for him financially to re-sign with the Lakers after next season, when he can agree to a five-year, $117.9-million contract, as opposed to a maximum four-year, $87.6-million deal with another team.
"Whatever happens a year from now, we'll wait until that time," Howard said Friday. "Right now it's all about the Lakers and me starting fresh, so I'm very excited about that."
The Lakers will gladly hand him the money.
After giving away Lamar Odom in December for nothing more than a traded-player exception -- a widely criticized move for a team that historically never shed payroll -- the Lakers used that same $9-million exception in the July 4 sign-and-trade deal that landed Nash for three years and $28 million.
Friday's activity pushed the Lakers' payroll to a staggering $99 million next season.
"Absolutely, sure, it's a concern," Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak said. "When it comes down to it, Dr. [Jerry] Buss is a competitor and his family is also very competitive. And when it comes down to a decision about making a couple of dollars or a million dollars or $10 million or putting another banner up, he can't help himself. He chooses to go for the banner."
The NBA installs a more punitive luxury tax penalty for teams over the $70-million threshold after next season, and the Lakers will have to shell out a separate sum of up to $80 million because of revenue sharing, but there are two reasons they're spending money.
The Buss family likes to win, sure, but there's also the team's 25-year, $5-billion deal with Time Warner Cable. The Lakers will get about $120 million in the first year of the broadcasting rights deal, which starts next season. They received about $50 million last season from Fox Sports West and Channel 9 combined.
Howard had surgery in April to repair a herniated disk in his back and said Friday he might not be ready for the season opener Oct. 30. "A back is very serious," he said. "So I'm going to take my time and make sure I get back 100%, because I want to give everybody 100% and not 80% or 90%."
Kobe Bryant has two more years and $58.3 million on his contract. Bryant understood the significance of Howard's being traded, saying he would probably play a few more years and "then the team is his."
Bryant added he was happy for the Lakers because "they have a player that can carry the franchise well after I'm gone."
Howard will actually get more on-court action than he did with Orlando because the Lakers play through the post so often, Bryant said. Howard has career averages of 18.4 points and 57.7% shooting, along with 13 rebounds and 2.2 blocked shots a game.
Gasol, the Lakers' power forward, was not part of the trade, despite some media reports that he might be involved.
"That's huge," Gasol said with a smile after helping Spain to a 67-59 victory over Russia in an Olympic semifinal Friday. "I've been involved in so many talks and so many rumors. I feel relieved. I'm anxious and excited to be back with our team, fully committed, fully focused on just working extremely hard and helping our team as much as I can."
Gasol, 32, has two more years and $38.3 million left on his contract.
However, a former Lakers All-Star center offered a cautionary note.
"The pressure that he has been feeling in Orlando has just multiplied by three now," Shaquille O'Neal, who also began his NBA career with the Magic, said of Howard. "The first thing the great Jerry West did when I signed with the Lakers is he walked me into the Forum and told me to look up. He showed me all the great big men that played before me and how many championships they won. The Lakers have a tradition of having great big men. He has a lot of work ahead of him."
Bryant hinted that some of his teammates on the U.S. Olympic team grumbled about the trade, but there were a lot of "no comments" when they were asked about it by reporters.