Just when you thought that next season with the Lakers might be marginally better than this one — they pull a rabbit out of a hat and significantly improve their roster for years to come with the acquisition of the best center in the NBA, Dwight Howard from the Orlando Magic.
Jerry Buss has had a remarkable capacity and commitment to using any means possible to keep the Lakers as the premiere attraction of the NBA, and his son Jimmy is following in that tradition.
Laker basketball has always been able to metamorphose. As a child I watched Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain fight with the Celtics for championships. The team reloaded with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and James Worthy. Then the Lakers traded for Shaquille O'Neal and drafted Kobe Bryant. They brought in Pau Gasol to team with Andrew Bynum. And earlier this off-season, they traded for perennial All-Star point guard Steve Nash to get the ball to their scorers. This latest move is monumental.
Howard spent the last year attempting to be traded to the Brooklyn Nets but has spent much of the off-season in Southern California and became more comfortable with the idea of playing for the Lakers. He is a transcendent force on the floor. He has a 6-foot-11 frame of a Greek God. Had a scientist designed the ideal body to play in the NBA, he could not have done much better. Howard is a rebounding machine and a powerful scorer. And notwithstanding the damage his image took in his unceasing demands to leave Orlando, he gives peak performance every night. Teamed with Pau Gasol it gives the team an impenetrable presence around the basket. Kobe still has a few years left in his long and illustrious career and the combination might be more compelling than Showtime.
Howard is only 26 and will be the team leader for years to come once Kobe retires. In return, the Lakers gave Orlando a first-round draft pick and sent center Andrew Bynum to Philadelphia in the four-team deal.
The Lakers figure to finish high and draft extremely low next year. The chance of such a player making much difference is faint. Bynum is an enigma who may never realize his great talent. He made the All-Star team this year and is commonly thought to be the second-rated NBA center behind Howard. His athleticism and talent are beyond compare. When he wants to, he can control the floor. He had a game with more than 30 rebounds this year. He has been in the League for seven years and is not an ingénue anymore, but he acts like one.
One game he is overpowering and the next game he disappears. His effort is totally inconsistent. And he has a sense of entitlement that leads to uncoachability. Remember a little over a year ago when he threw a temper tantrum in the NBA playoffs? His response to suggestions that he might want to play more in the key and shoot fewer three-pointers was "I'll shoot what I want to shoot."
Bynum is a classic case of an unequal proportion of talent and heart. Year after year we see athletes who are uniquely gifted with athleticism. The underachievement of high-round draftees in all major sports occurs every year. That is because it takes discipline and desire to achieve at the professional level. In the NFL, players like Bruce Smith, headed to the Hall of Fame, took a projector home every night to study film in an effort to achieve an edge on the field. They keep themselves in shape all year-round and do the grueling work in the weight room. Bynum was hurt year after year and did not seem to adapt to the stretching and training needed to avoid injury. He continued to collect his $15 million salary without seeming to care. And this is why the trade is such an upgrade.
A happy Dwight Howard will be a devastating player. We are fortunate to have the quality of ownership for the Lakers. The Buss Family has set a standard of excellence and championship expectations for the franchise. The NBA specifically designed its new collective bargaining agreement to prevent the accumulation of dynasties. Every part of the CBA is supposed to operate to achieve parity. Creative, well-run organizations will always find ways to maintain their edge, notwithstanding bad draft position or salary caps. Staples will be rocking this year.
LEIGH STEINBERG is a renowned sports agent, author, advocate, speaker and humanitarian. His column appears weekly. Follow Leigh on Twitter @steinbergsports or blog steinbergsports.com.