For all the frustration and confusion that occurred in almost a year of what was known as the Dwightmare, the Los Angeles Lakers were able to come out on top once again. Some speculated if the Lakers could afford Howard or questioned Dwight’s willingness to play in Los Angeles and share the spotlight with Kobe Bryant. We all got our answers, well at least as much as we could, when the Lakers seized the opportunity to grab the best center in the league.
While many, including myself, questioned who was the league best center or at least who could be, Dwight Howard or Andrew Bynum, Mitch Kupchak and the Lakers solidified that argument with Kupchak’s short and poignant statement on Friday: “We got the best.” Of course certain questions remain unanswered for now, such as “will he re-sign?” or “how much of the season can he play?” While we now know Howard won’t be ready for opening night, we know from Kupchak per HoopsWorld’s Eric Pincus that, “he’s going to be playing at a high level at some point and time.”
When it comes to the issue of Howard re-signing with the Lakers, management has full confidence that he will sign those papers come next July. In fact, that’s exactly what should happen anyway. By doing so, both sides benefit financially, as well as for player and team security reasons. Statistically, the Lakers will be in a position to offer Dwight Howard the most lucrative deal among any other NBA team come free agency 2013.
When free agency rolls around next year, the Lakers will be able to offer a five-year, $117.9-million contract to Howard. On the other hand, another team could only offer Howard a max deal of four years for $87.591 million via free agency or a sign-and-trade. In addition, did you see the way Howard looked at that purple and gold jersey and the way his face lit up when talking about being a Laker during the press conference on Friday?
The fact that acquiring Howard not only represents the present, but represents the future in Lakerland as well, is the most alluring aspect of all. While any Laker fan dreads the day when Kobe Bryant retires, Howard’s presence on the team offers a bit of relief. This sentiment has already been shared by Kobe himself.
On Friday, Bryant wrote on his Facebook page, “The Lakers landed a piece that will hopefully carry the franchise long after I’m gone. I have spoken to Dwight Howard already and we are locked and loaded to bring back the title.”
It is easy to get carried away when thinking about the future of the Lakers, but the sense that can be taken from Howard’s press conference is that focus is and should be on the upcoming season and that only. We all remember what happened with the Miami Heat when Chris Bosh and LeBron James joined Dwyane Wade and came up short of their self-proclaimed expectations. Therefore, the Lakers should take a one game at a time approach and use it to learn and improve.
The Lakers have a brilliant starting lineup of Howard, Pau Gasol, Metta World Peace, Bryant and Steve Nash. This starting five simply cannot be matched by any other team in the league, and whoever says so is not thinking clearly. Thanks to other deals by Kupchak that haven’t received as much press as Howard or Nash, the Laker bench is much improved from last season. As Laker fans say, the Lakers don’t rebuild, they reload. Howard has propelled already-high expectations even higher for the Lakers.
Come the regular season, Howard will represent defense. After all, he is a three-time defensive player of the year. Bryant will still be the face of the Lakers’ offense, and that will not change. However, unlike Andrew Bynum, Howard will put up consistent numbers on both ends of the court. He adds another massive threat for the defense to worry about, which will only open up his teammates and call off double teams on Bryant. If everyone was excited about the upcoming use of the pick-and-roll between Nash and Gasol, just imagine the pick-and-roll possibilities between Nash and Howard, who excels at this play.
Just what kind of numbers will Howard bring to the Lakers? Here’s a look at his averages with the Orlando Magic last season:
- Points Per Game- 20.6
- Rebounds Per Game- 14.5
- Blocks Per Game- 2.1
- Field Goal Percentage- 57.3%
Of course, his points per game average may slightly decrease from his above numbers because Howard doesn’t have to be the first, and sometimes only option on offense like he was in Orlando. If the Lakers can gel and perform night in and night out as a team and collective unit, those extreme high expectations will be fulfilled in June. The taste of winning a championship in L.A. will be more than enough for Howard to re-sign and continue building a legacy with the Lakers.
Earlier I mentioned that the prospect of Howard being the Laker for the future was the most appealing part of this deal. Mitch Kupchak said in the press conference that he hopes to one day retire Dwight Howard’s jersey and have it hanging on the banner next to other Lakers legendary centers like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and soon, Shaquille O’Neal. That is what this deal represents. A promising future. Success. Another chapter in Lakers history and tradition. Come fall, that chapter begins.