Lakers cap off perfect offseason with Howard acquisition


BY MATTHEW VINSKO, Couchsideshow.com blogger

NBA Superstar Dwight Howard  will begin a new chapter in his career as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers. Photo by: Julien Haler / Flickr

Even before the Los Angeles Lakers traded for star center Dwight Howard, I planned on writing this article and talking about the additions of guys like Steve Nash and Antawn Jamison and how they are going to help a savvy veteran team that sputtered on offense at times last season. With the arrival of Howard in LA, however, each previous trade and signing immediately gets forgotten. It’s Superman, after all. The heir apparent to Shaquille O’Neal has finally arrived, and not a moment too soon.

Still, each move the Lakers have made this offseason has added a piece that will (hopefully) contribute to another ring and Kobe Bryant’s sixth title overall, tying him with Michael Jordan. Here, I’ll take a look at each addition the Lakers have made this offseason and how it’ll help a team that’s went 1-8 in the past two second rounds of the playoffs.

Dwight Howard

Let’s get the big one (no pun intended) out of the way sooner than later. Dwight’s a game changer, but maybe not as much as people want to think. Andrew Bynum, who got shipped off to the Philadelphia ‘76ers in the deal, is coming off a career year, and assuming he stays healthy, can easily become the next big dominant center in the league. Howard, on the other hand, is coming off a relatively disappoint season by his standards that was hampered by late-season injuries and off the court drama.

Still, Howard is a superstar center with all the potential in the world granted he can perfect his low-post game. He’s already much better than Bynum defensively, and can impact both sides of the floor with his rebounding, but it’s hard to see any room for improvement seeing as the frontcourt of Bynum and Pau Gasol already dominated the boards last year, finishing second in the league in rebounds per game.

But if he can stay healthy, this trade was a steal for the Lakers, who gave up Bynum and a future first round pick. Granted, it might not be a blockbuster in my eyes, but it’s still exciting to see another dominant center in the purple and gold. Even though Bynum has all the potential in the world, his erratic behavior and ego was something disheartening that took away from his on-court production. Granted, the same could be said about Dwight Howard, but let’s be honest for a second: if you had to draft a big man to build a future of your franchise around, would it be Dwight or Bynum? The guy took a pretty mediocre Orlando Magic team to the finals a few years back, and is only 26. Athleticism is not a problem, and he’ll quickly mesh with a faster offense incorporated under the next big addition.

Seriously, how lucky is Kobe Bryant to have played with Shaq and now Dwight?

Steve Nash

The acquisition of a pass-first point guard is going to be interesting to watch, especially when you have a dominant guard who needs the ball in his hands to be most effective in Kobe. Still, Nash is easily the best point guard the Lakers have had since the days of Magic Johnson and should have an immediate impact. After all, the Lakers finished just behind the Phoenix Suns in assists, which is surprising considering one won their division and made it to the second round, while the other was a lottery team.

Nash has never finished a season with less than eight assists and should do wonders for the Lakers’ big men, especially Pau Gasol. Gasol, who has seen his production diminish the past few seasons with the emergence of Andrew Bynum, should see a career resurgence of sorts. Nash is a master of the pick and roll, and with a guy like Gasol who can not only finish at the rim but also pop out and hit a jump shot, the Lakers will have a potent big man on offense to play along Howard without clogging up the paint. Speaking of Howard, he has never played with a point guard like Nash who will push the tempo and play to his athleticism. It could be argued that the Lakers just stole the title of Lob City from their cross-town rival.

Still, the biggest question has to be how Nash will mesh with Kobe. Apparently the two had a conversation before the sign-and-trade with the Suns and agreed playing with each other will help prolong each others’ careers as they won’t need the ball in their hands all the time with each other on the court. Kobe is one of the deadliest shooters when he has open looks, and now that opposing teams will need to respect Nash and his innate playmaking skills, not to mention his shooting ability (a big addition to a dead that finished near the bottom of the league in 3 pt. percentage), the Black Mamba should get to ease up and enjoy a few more wide open looks each game.

Granted, Nash’ biggest weakness has always been his liability on defense, which will hurt against the Tony Parkers and Russell Westbrooks of the Western Conference, but when you’re going to be scoring at the rate this Lakers team should be at, defense should never be a problem, especially with Dwight in the paint to clog things up.

Nash has never played with a team quite like this Lakers squad and should see a sort of career resurgence after his dominant big man (Amare Stoudemire) left for the New York Knicks. This time, however, he has two bigs who can score, which should leave opposing teams very nervous.

Antawn Jamison

Last season, especially in the playoffs, the Lakers bench came up short in critical junctures. With the addition of Jamison, the Lakers now have a legitimate sixth-man-of-the-year candidate for the first time since the departure of Lamar Odom.

Jamison played 65 games for the Cleveland Cavaliers last year and averaged just over 17 points and 6 rebounds. Taking that production to a Lakers bench that finished in the bottom half of league average for points per game should do wonders and add frontcourt depth to a team seemed to be lacking at times last year. Granted, defense isn’t his forte (nor is it Nash’), but it’s hard not to be happy about having a spark off the bench that can get you points in a hurry from inside and outside of the arc.

Plus, having a guy like Steve Nash feeding you the ball is only going to improve your stats, especially when you’re a shooter of Jamison’s stature. He’s not the player he once was, but last season showed he can still ball with the rest of us on a terrible Cleveland team. Just wait until he’s probably the fifth best player on a team.

The Rest

The Lakers resigning of Jordan Hill was a big addition to further add depth to a Lakers front court that struggled last year off the bench (until the arrival of Hill himself). A solid defensive player with upside, Hill played well in the playoffs, earning himself a spot in the rotation behind Bynum and Gasol, which is still important in a Western Conference with big men aplenty.

The signing of Jodie Meeks will help a Lakers squad that could have shot the ball better last year, especially off the bench.  Andrew Goudelock and Darius Morris, who played big minutes last year at times, just aren’t ready to fill the backup shooting guard spot, and with Meeks, he provides an additional spark off the bench who can hit the long ball consistently. It’s maybe not the flashiest signing, but it is a good, fundamental pickup for a team trying to fill out its roster behind its key starters.

Chris Duhon and Earl Clark, who arrive to the Lake Show in the Dwight Howard trade, will provide a few decent supporting players who can add depth, but probably won’t see much playing time. Duhon could easily steal Steve Blake’s role as backup to Nash as a younger, more versatile player, but his inconsistency with the Magic has me wondering if he’ll ever get back to his early days with the Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks. Clark, on the other hand, is a young, athletic forward with potential that could easily slip into backing up Metta World Peace if Devin Ebanks plays his semi-erratic game.

The Verdict

This offseason was huge for a Lakers team desperate for change. As a fan, I couldn’t have asked for a better series of signings and trades on paper, but will it all mesh? That’s the big question heading into the regular season, and one that can’t be answered until a few months in.

Howard could easily be the future of the Lakers franchise, and the signing of Nash and Jamison adds a perfect veteran presence on a team trying to balance winning with the future. If I had to give the Lakers a grade this offseason, it would be an A+, but saying this group of guys will automatically mesh and compete for a title is a little naïve in my opinion. With the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder gearing up for a finals rematch, it’s hard to say if the Lakers’ additions automatically plug them back into a championship contender. But for a team that’s struggled mightily the past two postseasons, it’s definitely a step in the right direction.

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