For fans and media, the Dwightmare is finally over.
For NBA teams not named the Los Angeles Lakers, it is only beginning.
After months of false starts, endorsement and reputation-crippling actions by Dwight Howard and done deals that weren’t, Howard is officially a Laker.
He joins forces with Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Pau Gasol, Metta World Peace, Antawn Jamison and others on what is on paper one of the finest teams ever assembled.
Was there ever really any doubt it would come to this? Sure, the man-child (man in body, child in his actions) wanted to go to Brooklyn, but they never had the pieces to get it done, unlike the Lakers, who had Andrew Bynum, another premier big man, as well as history on their side.
See, when a generational big man is up for grabs, the Lakers tend to land him.
Whether it’s through a dispersal draft (George Mikan, the league’s first great centre), free agency (Shaquille O’Neal, the top free-agent signing in the history of sports back in 1996), trade (Wilt Chamberlain, a top 5 all-time player; Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, merely the NBA’s all-time leading scorer; Pau Gasol, who kept Bryant in town and was the second-best player on two title winners and Howard), no team shifts the balance of power by acquiring great big men like the Lakers.
Yes, the team had to surrender Bynum, along with some inconsequential players and low value draft picks — but this is another Hollywood heist.
How is anybody going to be able to stop this bunch? If you liked Nash to Amare Stoudemire in the pick and roll, wait until Howard takes Stoudemire’s role. Plus, Bryant, merely a career 25.4-points-per-game scorer is still around and will now be able to pick his spots. Not to mention Gasol, no slouch, even if he had an off-year and is grossly overpaid, somehow stuck around.
What was Orlando thinking? Better than losing Shaq for nothing perhaps?
How does the team offering the best player in a four-team blockbuster get a worse return than the other three sides?
Philadelphia traded a stellar swingman for a stellar centre, a move every team quickly does, plus picked up Jason Richardson to provide some scoring punch. Rookie Moe Harkless has a lot of promise and sophomore centre Nikola Vucevic is a solid backup, but the Sixers just saved what had been a terrible off-season and now could challenge Boston for the Atlantic crown.
Los Angeles becomes the class of a league that already had ridiculous trios in Miami and Oklahoma City.
Meanwhile, Denver and former Raptors assistant general manager Masai Ujiri cleaned up again (after doing quite well in the Carmelo Anthony trade) dumping overpaid Arron Afflalo and Al Harrington on Orlando, while getting Andre Iguodala, a jack-of-all-trades who defends like few others at his position.
Orlando gets the Raptors/Vince Carter treatment. Afflalo (basically a better Eric Williams), some deadweight (Harrington, Josh McRoberts, who at least will show up, unlike Alonzo Mourning), Harkless, Vucevic and some more middling picks (the Raptors got two firsts, one ended up being Joey Graham, the other was traded to dump Jalen Rose).
The package probably trumps what the Raptors under Rob Babcock got for Carter, but Howard is a much better player and far more valuable.
Orlando has now lost Shaq, Penny Hardaway, Tracy McGrady and Howard over the years with little to show for the trauma.
And people think the Raptors have had it bad with defections.
The deal means Orlando is going to be horrid for years to come and will rely on lottery luck and future cap space to draw in free agents.
Usually that’s a recipe for failure and it probably won’t work out, but Orlando has won the lottery more times than anybody and has a climate draw most other franchises can only dream of.
Regardless, the deal illustrates once again what we already knew: Last year’s lockout wasn’t about levelling the playing field and giving every franchise a shot at success. It was about money. The owners wanted a bigger cut of the pie and they got it.
Sure, the Knicks balked at paying Jeremy Lin and Landry Fields largely because of the onerous luxury tax bill that would have come their way down the line, but Los Angeles had no such qualms.
The Lakers might be paying as much in luxury tax as some teams do in total payroll in a few years (the Big Four alone will put the team over the $75-million U.S. tax line in 2012-13 assuming Howard re-signs), but armed with a $200-million-a-year television deal, ownership doesn’t care.
The team still is going to print money and it might just consider pre-ordering championship rings as well.
SHAKEDOWN IN THE EAST
Though Dwight Howard is heading to the Pacific Division, Friday’s mega-deal will produce aftershocks in the Atlantic as well.
With Howard going to Los Angeles instead of his preferred destination, Brooklyn, the Nets, while still solid and possibly the class of the loop, won’t become a superpower.
That’s important. Had Howard chosen to opt out last season, making a trade to Brooklyn this summer far easier, he likely would have been a Net and the team would have battled Miami for East supremacy for years to come.
Instead, Philadelphia managed to get involved, adding Andrew Bynum, probably the second-best centre in the NBA and Jason Richardson, overpaid but still a solid scorer.
The Sixers had been in the midst of a horrendous off-season (letting scoring leader Lou Williams go and signing the far less efficient Nick Young, using the amnesty provision on Elton Brand for no good reason) but have reversed things considerably.
Yes, Bynum could leave in a year, but he’s from close by (New Jersey) and will be a first option for the first time and should love that.
In the meantime, the team might have the best player in the division (with apologies to Rajon Rondo and Deron Williams) and will be able to punish opponents with its size and athleticism.
With Andre Iguodala gone from Philly to Denver, the Raptors lost a coveted trade target. Though the team had not been able to swing an Iguodala deal, there was some hope in the organization that something could be revisited later in the season.