Five Thoughts: Dwight Howard Edition

We all know that Laker Nation is either pining for Dwight Howard, or have already made their mind up that it's a foregone conclusion that he will be wearing the forum blue and gold in the near future.

Here's a few thoughts about Dwight Howard and his possible future with the Lakers:

- Is Dwight Howard a clear "franchise guy" and significantly better than Andrew Bynum?

At first glance, yes. Dwight Howard is a 5 time All-Star, a 4 time All-NBA 1st Team player, and a 3 time Defensive Player of the Year. He has averaged over 18 PPG, 13 RPG, over 2 Blocks a game, and has only missed 7 games in total over his 7 years NBA career.

Andrew Bynum on the other hand, has lower averages across the board, and has played in 75% of a seasons' games only once in his 6 NBA seasons. Although he's two years younger than Howard, the injuries are very worrisome, as is his penchant for hard fouls at the wrong times.

Digging deeper, it might not be as clear cut as it seems.

Although Howard has put up great numbers during his postseasons, the Magic have consistently lost to inferior teams. Because of his poor free throw shooting, Dwight Howard led teams are doomed to fail in close games, because his presence is negated offensively. And even when the supporting cast puts it all together and they make a run at the championship, as they did in 2009, the Magic and Howard failed to beat an Andrew Bynum-less Lakers team, that used a "soft" Pau Gasol to guard Howard. The Lakers did what no other team had done that postseason: force Dwight Howard to win the game for the Magic. They quieted the 3-point shooting of the Magic, and forced Howard to make all of the plays. Obviously, this didn't work out for the Orlando Magic.

As for Andrew Bynum, his marked improvement this season has only bolstered his stock with the Lakers. He might have been the only Laker that actually played well in the postseason, and his toughness and determination while playing hurt in the 2010 NBA Finals against the Celtics shows that he has the fire inside of him. Even his head-to-head games against Dwight Howard have been impressive. Usually Howard looks like a god compared to most NBA players. His physique and sheer size means that he towers over most. Not Andrew Bynum though. When I watched the last game between the two teams, Bynum and Howard squared off at the tip-off, and Bynum might have even looked bigger and more cut than Howard. He's the only play in the NBA that can measure up to Dwight Howard physically.

I'm not necessarily saying that he's better that Dwight Howard, because I don't think that he is, but I don't think it's as clear cut anymore.

- Will Jim Buss ever even trade Andrew Bynum:

We know the story. Bynum is Jim Buss' #1 guy. Buss pushed to draft him. Buss defended his immaturity early in his career, and wouldn't trade him for Jason Kidd when Kobe publicly made the case for it. Buss then signed him to an extension fairly early in the process, rather than let him get a sniff at free agency. It seems that every move Jim Buss has made leads to the same conclusion: Jim Buss is set on the fact that Andrew Bynum will be a major focus on the Lakers moving forward. Do I think Mitch Kupchak and others can convince Buss otherwise? Maybe. I don't think that will be soon though.

- Does Dwight Howard even want to come to LA?

Howard has publicly stated that he intends on playing out his contract with Orlando, and is committed to the team and the city. A fairly standard "PC" answer for this situation nowadays. I'm sure he feels indebted to the team and the city that he's been with for 7 seasons. I'm also sure that he knows they've paid him a lot of money over the years, and they've come close to putting it all together to win a championship. But that only goes so far for the elite players. At the end of the day, they need to win at some point.

Dwight Howard has put it out there in the past that he wants to win, and that he will look into every option to accomplish that. He has also said that he knows about the Lakers tradition of great centers, and wouldn't mind being put into that category some day. Even as recent as a year ago, sources close to Howard said that if he didn't win in Orlando because his contract was up, that he would look elsewhere, most likely at the Lakers.

Even more recently, Howard is engaged to a former basketball player at Chico State, Christine Vest. An LA native, (Winnetka, the Valley) Vest is also an up and comer in the music industry, and has told her friends that she is staying in LA and wants Dwight to move there with her. Now that may change in the future, but more often than not, all of us married men know which way this will most likely turn out.

- Do the Lakers have enough money to even sign Dwight Howard?

Under the current CBA, the Lakers could only afford Howard in a sign and trade that included either Gasol or Bynum. In addition to one of those guys, they would need to include either Walton, Blake, or Artest. If it's Bynum, they might also need to include Odom in the deal, and get someone like Jameer Nelson or JJ Redick in return to make both the deal and the monies line up.

This isn't even accounting for the fact that the Lakers would then need to sign Howard longterm after that, which will probably be a max deal, and will effect their roster moving forward. In a deal that works, Let's say the Lakers trade Bynum and Steve Blake for Dwight Howard and Chris Duhon. The Lakers would then be on the hook for Duhon until 2014, and need to sign Dwight Howard to a max long term deal as well. This would mean that the Lakers roster of Kobe, Pau, Odom, Artest, Walton, Fisher, Duhon, and Howard would be around $97.65 mil. That's $6.65 mil over the Lakers current payroll (the highest in the NBA), and they would still need to find 5-6 more guys to fill out the roster.

So they would need to find takers for Artest and Walton, both of whom are extremely tough contracts to get rid of. Or they could trade Pau and/or Odom, but then you're significantly lessening your chances to win a championship. Obviously Kupchak and the Buss family have found ways in the past, but it seems like Superman might be worth more than the Lakers could handle.

- Better fit for Howard

It's hard to think about it, and even harder to actually say out loud, but the Clippers might in fact be a better option for Dwight Howard. They clearly have an up and coming young team with room to grow, and room to maneuver their salary to accommodate him. It's rumored that the Clippers and Sixers are discussing an Iguodala for Kaman swap, which would mean a nucleus of Blake Griffin, Andre Iguodala, Eric Gordon, Moe Williams, and DeAndre Jordan.

If Dwight Howard's fiancee is set on moving him out to LA, the Clippers and their young core might just be enough to entice him to sign. They're not the Lakers of course, and their owner is the furthest thing from being committed to winning, but it just might work out. If they could only get out of their own way...

- Mark Slattery Senior Writer

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