Friday, August 10, 2012

Dwight Howard To Hollywood: Lakers Soar Into Prime Contention

The Buss family, especially Jim, the son of Jerry who is running an operation out of Los Angeles, negotiated and somehow landed Dwight Howard in Hollywood. The Los Angeles Lakers, whose recipe for success is constant rebuilding with blockbuster moves, satisfied their star guard Kobe Bryant, surrounding him with star power and plenty of talent to suddenly emerge as favorites in the West.

It’s a no-brainer, after a four-team trade sent Howard to L.A. and after the Lakers super-sized their roster to regain strength and aspiration — as always — that the Lakers are in contention for an NBA championship. The embarrassment the Lakers sustained the last two seasons impetuously drove the Busses to revamp and make certain they stay at the top to contend in the postseason. The Dwightmare is finally over, and folks all over can breathe a sigh of relief, particularly fans donning purple and gold attire who are lucky to have D12 arrive at Hollywood, where he fits in rather perfectly. After all, he’s an entertainer, a solid performer when he chooses to be and earned the “Superman” moniker from his days in Orlando.

Put aside all the rumors. Put aside all the speculations and tired trade sagas. Willingly and merrily, he’s leaving the Sunshine State to relocate to a new address in Los Angeles — off Figueroa Street and Chick Hearn Court — and respectfully steps into the spotlight, welcomed to his new home immediately with a chance to contend for a title with a team demanding to continue a winning tradition. Not surprising, however, that the Lakers acquired Howard from Orlando to make Thursday’s headlines, when he’s been seen around Los Angeles. It’s evident he enjoys the glamour of five-star restaurants and luxury hotels in a town where he’s now famously known as the Lakers’ seven-foot center, or rather remarkably, a superhero who is already idolized, although L.A. fans booed Howard during a ballgame at Dodger Stadium when the Jumbotron showed him standing outside of a stadium suite. And then he was also spotted walking out of a Beverly Hills hotel.

Like Randy Newman and most celebrities, Howard LOVES L.A., realizing he’s joined the Lakers, an assembled team with a nucleus of talent. After adding Howard to the roster, the magnitude of L.A. pro sports centers around the Lakers, whose starting lineup features NBA’s finest studs in Bryant, Metta World Peace and Steve Nash. Pau Gasol, who is also an elite megastar for the Lakers, was ecstatic and relieved he wasn’t traded elsewhere when he’s been floating in trade rumors for months and likely was one of the players to be moved as part of a blockbuster deal. Meanwhile, Howard is, at long last, out of Orlando. He is, at long last, glad to be putting on a Lakers uniform. He is not, at long last, disgruntled or unhappy with a change of scenery, coming to an established team destined to make a strong championship push.

The Lakers, suddenly, are very interesting. The offseason was, for the most part, chaotic and tumult with a lingering saga hijacking the summer as 24/7 coverage on Howard annoyed fans. When he demanded to be traded — with all indications that he wanted to call Brooklyn home — the Lakers, as they should have, phoned the Orlando Magic organization and listened to offers. It was frustrating for months, as the Magic and Howard weren’t sure what their intentions were as to whether or not the self-proclaimed Superman desired staying in Orlando until he became a free agent after next season. It was telling the Lakers were old and stagnant, and were in dire need of younger and fresher legs to keep up with teams like the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder in the open floor. Having said that, the Lakers continue to bring in the missing pieces to blend in well alongside Bryant, who still wants to be bestowed a championship ring, as they are now in position to win a championship.

Before Nash and Howard joined the company of Bryant and the gang, the Lakers were devoid of athleticism with an aging Kobe well past his prime. As he continues to age, Bryant can’t score as much as he used to nor can he play as hard as he used to when he was well in his prime. The folks in the front office knew they had to sooner than later be proactive and build around one of the greatest scorers in the game, as a way to put a smile on Kobe’s face to avoid any feuding. Remember, years ago he demanded a trade and essentially — if you believe everything you read and hear — was supposed to end up finishing his fantastic career in the Windy City, where he’d have played in the shadows of Michael Jordan and would’ve had tremendous pressure to fill the shoes of a legend. Had it not been for Kobe’s pouting and whining, which may have been a brilliant strategy that forced the Lakers to head into a new direction, they wouldn’t have pursued in a deal to acquire Gasol from Memphis.

Right now, though, the newest Laker is Howard. The deal is officially done, and the Lakers look forward to raising a 17th championship banner into the rafters at Staples Center with a celebration on their minds. In many ways — that is — we simply understand the Lakers’ motives and philosophies. The thing is, if there is a talked-about big man available who is dominant to prolong excellence in the modern era, the Lakers don’t hesitate and finds a way to get him. Quite often, as we’ve seen for decades, the Lakers have turned sizable big men into legends, relying on a dominant inside presence and high-profile centers — Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, George Mikan and Shaquille O’Neal.

Truth be told, the Lakers were aggressive and refused to pass on a lifetime offer that could benefit the team in the long run. It’s tough to be in Mitch Kupchak’s position, but the Lakers general manager wasn’t letting Howard get away and amazingly pulled of another steal, certainly in conversations to be named NBA Executive of the Year. It wasn’t long ago, when he blundered on botched maneuvers and dismantled the team briefly, that he was a puppet on strings unable to have a word in the personnel decisions, as Buss dictated the direction of his franchise. They both needed a wake up call, which occurred when the Lakers were dispatched in the second round for the second straight year with a five-game loss to the Thunder last season.

The reality of it all was that the Lakers couldn’t win with their current roster, badly and seriously needing an overhaul to revitalize a broken team in the City of Angels. The reality of it all was that the Lakers couldn’t survive after embarrassing losses that resulted in early playoff exits. The Lakers wasted no time to rectify the problem, and wisely addressed their top priority by strengthening the point guard position, bringing in two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash to considerably form a scintillating backcourt combination. This is what happens when a team is humiliated in the postseason and continues to fall victim to blowouts, a prominent franchise that upgraded its team to make a run at the championship.

It was nice of the rival Phoenix Suns to reach an agreement on a sign-and-trade that sent Nash to Los Angeles. The only solution, then, was for the Lakers to trade center Andrew Bynum for Howard. They had conversations over the phone, trying hard to whisper sweet things in Rob Hennigan’s ears, Orlando’s newly minted GM. It took a four-team, eight-player deal to get it done, and while the Lakers have improved overnight it seems, the 76ers ended up with Bynum and will now have a low-post presence to create shooting opportunities for Evan Turner and Jrue Holiday. The other team involved was Denver and they picked up Andre Iguodala, a swingman whose presence can sharpen the Nuggets’ perimeter defense.

On the day the Lakers welcomed home Howard, it was a day the Lakers waved goodbye to Bynum, as his services were no longer needed. Either he was consistent or inconsistent. Either he was lousy or effective. And with Howard, as the team’s next big man, the Lakers think they can actually succeed with him in the lineup — they are doing whatever it takes to win. That explains why they have a multitude of NBA titles, why they are either loved or loathed and why Lakers’ games are national televised regularly. This is what happens when an NBA team consists of an array of stars. We are infatuated with stars and love our superstars, as many Americans revere these idols, madly obsessed with the Bryants, the Howards, the Nashes and other attractive figures who are marketable and winners.

As for the Lakers, they make moves to win NOW. The Lakers, as usual, are eyeing a gleaming trophy. It’s all about winning championships, and each year L.A. is normally in contention, rarely missing the postseason. If the Lakers do miss the postseason, they aren’t down very long and eventually return to the playoffs and makes a deep run to be a menace in the West, like they will now. The Lakers, ladies and gentlemen, are back and could have a 70-plus-win season, especially with Kobe and Nash’s veteran leadership. It’s their 17th season in the league, but they both can still play at a high level as the new 30 and older is the new 20 and younger. The gravity of an NBA championship is within reach, and with the Howard acquisition, anything can happen. It’s still surreal that Howard will make Hollywood his home, when becoming a Laker didn’t ever seem feasible, until three days ago. And before then, he was flirting with the Nets and the Rockets, without the Lakers even being on his list. But now that he’s with the Lakers, he doesn’t regret it and appears to be in high spirits.

Howard will be a free agent at the end of next season, and said he’s testing the market. There’s nothing wrong with exploring options, but he won’t be going anywhere after next season if the Lakers have a deep playoff run and wins a championship. He realizes that he can win multiple titles in L.A. and celebrate alongside Bryant, who is by far the best player of this generation. If Howard is playing for championship rings, then he knows L.A. is the right place.