Saturday, August 11, 2012

A Dwightful beginning in Hollywood

In a town that loves a good narrative, how about Superman playing at The Staples Center in front of Jack, Denzel and Dyan? Faster than you can say, "holy Stan Van Gundy," Orlando's  "Dwightmare" has ended and Showtime 3.0 has arrived. In a seismic shift in the NBA power landscape, the Los Angeles Lakers blockbuster trade for three-time NBA ROY, Dwight Howard continues the Lakers tradition of acquiring the best big men in the game. They aquired  Wilt Chamberlin in 1968, Kareem  Abdul-Jabbar in 1975, and some guy called Shaq in 1996-each resulted in at least one championship.When you factor the Lakers did not have to part with starting power forward Pau Gasol, you can probably hear Rod Stewart  in Malibu crooning,"Some Guys Have All the Luck." 

Rarely are mega-trades involving legitimate franchise players simple. This was no different. It involves 4 teams and 11 players. Orlando receives shooting guard Arron Afflalo and forward Al Harrington from Denver, center Nikola Vucevic and rookie forward Moe Harkless from Philadelphia. Forward Josh McRoberts and guard Christian Eyenga will also arrive from the Lakers. The Magic also get protected first round picks from each team, and a second round pick from Denver. The Lakers get Howard, guard Chris Duhon and forward Earl Clark from Orlando. The Magic also traded guard Jason Richardson to Philadelphia. Philadelphia obtains Lakers center Andrew Bynum, while shipping out valuable swing-man Andre Iguodala to the Nuggets.

The Lakers have completed a remarkable summer transformation after their five game second-round spanking by the young upstarts in Oklahoma. First L.A. secures the services of future hall of fame point guard Steve Nash to resuscitate a stagnant offense that suffered from a lack of outside shooting and off-the-dribble creativity. Nash's arrival will make the game easier and get Kobe, Gasol, and Howard high-percentage shots. Nash was obtained with a $ 27 million 3-year sign-and-trade exception L.A. created in dealing Lamar Odom to the Dallas Mavericks. But NBA championship success is rarely a linear procession-especially after importing two new starters at critical positions:point guard and center. Even before the Thunder's playoff walloping that saw Kobe revert back to the "bad Kobe" hoisting up nearly 30 shots in the elimination game, it was quite apparent "hero ball" was not going to get it done. Unlike the bad old Lakers years, when Kobe was playing with the likes of Smush Parker, it is inexcusable to see him chuck up an average of 23 shots a game during the regular season. Putting it another way, no other player-not LeBron, Durant, or shot-happy Russell Westbrook- averaged 20 field goal attempts a game. 

In his defense,coach Mike Brown had very little time after the lock out to implement a complementary offensive scheme. As a result, the always predictable, imagination-bereft  coach Brown play calling,often saw Kobe going iso with little regard to the imposing presences of two multi-skilled seven footers:Gasol and  Bynum. Never mind they are two of the highest scoring most efficient bigs in the game. Steve Nash immediately addresses that issue. With Nash at quarterback, the Lakers offense will be less Kobe-centric. There will be better ball movement, more pick-and- rolls, and better spacing: Nash is a career 43% shooter from downtown. Then consider Nash's unequaled court-vision, ability to keep a live-dribble, better ball flow to prevent defenses from sagging in the interior, with an innate ability to consistently make the right decicion. The Lakers offense will become how do you say?  .... sexy. The driving lanes will be open up giving D-12  room to operate on the blocks. This allow Gasol to hang back and not have to bang as much, and the Black Momba can attack from the weak-side. Throw in some 5-1 pick-and rolls and you see why Tinsel town fans are getting are salivating.

No disrespect to Andrew Bynum, Howard gives the Lakers  key dimensions they have not had in years. Howard is a mobile, supremely athletic, board-banging, rim-protecting five who can disrupt offenses from the basket to the three-point line. Morever, in a pick-and-roll league, Howard can stunt, blitz, and show and recover with the best of them. Bynum is a good defender, Howard is the gold standard.  While no one is confusing Howard with Hakeem Olajuwon, his offensive game  has improved. He now has some counters, a jump hook with both hands, and a decent mid range J. In addition, he has solid footwork and will be devastating rolling to the basket on screens. Too often, Bynum's inability to pass out of the double teams, coupled with his interminable back-to-the basket ball-stopping game caused the Laker offense  to come to a screeching halt.

With Miami and Oklahoma both thriving playing small ball, the new Lakers team presents a host of match up problems. Their uber-sized front-court of Gasol and Howard will negate that spacing advantage, mandate a true five on the court, and alter the tempo the Heat and Thunder currently enjoy playing without a true center. The Lakers have also improved in two areas where the Heat are vulnerable: point guard and center. Although Mario Chalmers was impressive in the finals against the Thunder, handling Steve Nash's ball wizardry, proficiency on the perimeter,and adroitness reading defenses, is much different than the one dimensional attacking style of Russell Westbrook. Good luck matching Joel Anthony or Chris Bosch against Howard. That is as painful as watching multiple episodes of the Kardashians. Yeah, you may say  the Thunder's Kendrick Perkins has always been able to guard Howard mano-mano, but Perkins offers such an anemic offensive arsenal, it will allow the Lakers to double off him at all times. Add consider  Howard has never, I repeat never, played with an elite shot creator, it gets downright scary-he has has two of the best in Black Mamba and Nash. Both will be able to get Howard the ball in sweet spots on  the floor.

 Kobe has also "nudged" coach Brown to "modify" his offensive approach(or lack thereof)  by importing the cousin to the Triangle offense-he Princeton Offense. The Lakers will be even more formidable. Eddie Jordan, new assistant and Princeton Offense savant, will be tasked with implementing the new offense. The Princeton Offense adheres to the same fundamental tenets of the Phil Jackson/Tex Winter system. It is predicated on high player basketball IQ, fluidity, spacing, player and ball movement, reading and reacting to defenses( as opposed to play calling), and screens( on the off- the ball). This system will allow Gasol to get his mojo back. He will thrive due to his ability to make plays from the high-post, facilitate  with his crisp passing, and prosper with excellent decision making with the ball. Executed properly with requisite ball movement, changing sides on the floor, getting everyone involved in the offense, the Lakers will be hard to defend. You can not lock in on one player.

But NBA basketball, as with life is played in real time. Many a team who looked good on paper, crashed and burned. Let's remember the 2004 Lakers super team featuring young Kobe, a diesel Shaq, Gary Payton , and Karl Malone. They won exactly no rings. Howard's lack of maturity is also an issue.  You have the endless attention grabbing ,waffling of do I stay or do I go, the dearth of on the court leadership. Howard's antics will go over in L.A. as well as Lil Wayne on stage at the Metropolitan Opera. He is no longer playing with house money. Can his broad shoulders carry massively increased expectations?  Nothing less that a championship will satisfy. No almost pregnant on this one.

 The Lakers championship window is narrow. Kobe has a ton of mileage on those wheels after 17 years  hitting  the hardwood. Nash may be point guard marvel , but he is also 38-years old.  How will Howard handle the swollen hopes of 19,000+ at Staples Center, drenched in a nightly "championship or bust" mode, where 10 championship banners adjoined to the jerseys of Lakers icons from Magic to West hover above like an IRS audit? What happens when Superman botches clutch free throws, or falters passing out of double teams? Will the pressuure of Kobe's singular Jordan surpassing legacy and jedi mind meld  be the kryptonite to the Lakers new superman ?

If nothing else, this is a classic Lakers move GM Mitch Kupchak had to make. It is a solid move now and for the future. It extends the Lakers championship window-albeit with Howard resigning after this season- and becoming the aplha dog in the post-Kobe era. Punitive luxury tax be dammed. Ladies and gentlemen Arsenio is back and so is Showtime. Can the new L.A. Law be far behind. Where is Arnie Becker when you need him?

1 comment:

  1. Remeber who said it first, Bynum will be in a Laker uniform after 2012-2013 season. The Towers are coming to the west again...