Dwight Howard becomes the next great center of the Lakers. Will he have the… (Illustration by Robert…)
Miami's Big Three has been outnumbered.
San Antonio's savvy veterans have been outsmarted.
Oklahoma City's freakish athletes have been . . . well, let's not get ridiculous here.
The Lakers are not a perfect team, nor are they foolproof picks to win the 2013 NBA title just because Dwight Howard now graces a roster that also includes Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash.
But any bet on them to edge out top challengers involves smarter money than it did a few days ago.
RJ Bell of Pregame.com bumped the Lakers ahead of the Thunder and into the No. 2 spot in his odds to win the NBA title, trailing only the defending champion Heat.
Howard gives the Lakers the game's best two-way center, a lockdown defender who has led the league in rebounding in six of the last seven seasons and is capable of averaging 20 points per game.
He also does so much more. You say Howard can't address the Lakers' deficiencies in three-point shooting and perimeter defense?
I say otherwise.
His muscular 6-foot-11, 265-pound frame will draw such a crowd underneath the basket that his teammates will often find themselves open around the three-point arc.
And although it's true that Howard can't rejuvenate the aging legs of Bryant, about to turn 34, and Nash, 38, he will provide an unrivaled second line of defense on the occasions when speedsters such as Russell Westbrook blow past their Lakers counterparts.
Nash might just be the happiest new Laker. He gets to run the pick-and-roll with Howard and Gasol, quite the upgrade over former Phoenix Suns teammates Marcin Gortat and Channing Frye.
Let's also not forget that Gasol is one of the best passing big men in the league and Bryant is still one of the game's most dynamic talents who remains hellbent on collecting a ring for his other hand.
Even the Lakers' bench is better. Sixth man Antawn Jamison is capable of scoring on any given night the 21 points the Lakers' reserves cumulatively averaged last season. Newly acquired shooting guard Jodie Meeks should allow Coach Mike Brown to give Bryant more extended breathers than he received in their first season together.
Of course, it's been less than a decade since the Lakers assembled a team with four probable Hall of Famers that went on to become one of the all-time flops.
Remember the Fab Four of Gary Payton, Karl Malone, Shaquille O'Neal and Bryant? The team that was supposed to challenge the Chicago Bulls' record 72 regular-season victories on the way to a sure NBA title during the 2003-04 season?
The 40-year-old Malone proved to be too brittle, Payton too selfish, Bryant too distracted by flights to Colorado and O'Neal too adrift at the free-throw line in his final season with the Lakers before being traded to Miami. The Lakers won 56 games and reached the Finals before drying up during three consecutive defeats against the Detroit Pistons.
Howard is still dealing with his own injury concerns, coming off surgery to repair a herniated disk in his back that could keep him out beyond the Lakers' Oct. 30 opener.
The sooner he returns, the worse it will be for the rest of a league that will struggle to match up against the Lakers' new fearsome foursome.
Miami's one discernible weakness during its title run was its post game, where it has Chris Bosh and so little else that the 6-8 LeBron James often posted up as a power forward in the playoffs. That won't work against Howard and Gasol.
San Antonio's recent edge over the Lakers was rooted in the smarts of point guard Tony Parker and center Tim Duncan, but Nash and Howard negate that advantage.
That leaves Oklahoma City as the Lakers' most likely stumbling block on the way to a victory parade.
Westbrook and Kevin Durant still present problems for which the Lakers have no easy answers.
Then again, the Thunder has never had to deal with a team featuring Howard and Nash.
It will be June before the NBA's new pecking order is affirmed after a summer the Lakers spent outdoing themselves.