Dwight Howard will keep his beaming smile much to the chagrin of teams and fans across the league. After a year of committing some of the biggest PR blunders in NBA history, Howard has found himself in exactly the position he had hoped for- competing for a championship in a highly lucrative market. As part of a four-team trade on Friday, Howard became the newest center for the Los Angeles Lakers, continuing the team’s long tradition of acquiring All Star big men in highly expensive fashion. When one considers what past Lakers centers (Shaq, Kareem and Wilt) have done during their career in Southern California, there is reason to believe Dwight and his new teammates may pose a serious threat to the Western Conference competitors in the foreseeable future.
With Howard now on the starting roster, the Lakers are a true powerhouse in the league. By joining Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol, the Lakers’ starting five will have accounted for 33 All Star appearances. If that fact alone does not give rivals cause for fear, it is also worth noting the Lakers have improved their bench considerably by adding Jodie Meeks this past week and Antawn Jamison earlier this summer. Simply put, the team is stacked. Only a few teams will have a roster that can not only handle but also compete with this talent. The Thunder will still be able to hold their own due to their speed, athleticism and any improvement from Durant, Ibaka, Harden and Westbrook this offseason. However, there is another team that might be able to shake this Lakers cage- your very own Minnesota Timberwolves.
While this prediction seems bold and arguably outrageous given the Wolves’ past shortcomings, there is reason to not only entertain this possibility but perhaps even take it seriously. Here are the factors to consider when examining these teams against each other: roster matchups, Adelman’s coaching success and looming risks for the Lakers.
1. Roster Matchups
There are only a few centers in the league that can match the strength and size of Dwight Howard. There are even fewer centers that can actually slow him down. One could argue a member of this select party is Nikolai Pekovic. In their one meeting this season, Pekovic was able to put Howard in foul trouble early and hold him to a mere 4-11 shooting. Alternatively, Pekovic was able to score 16 points and grab 13 boards, proving he was a player to be watched throughout the season.
If Howard and Pekovic are indeed the elephants of the league, then consider Rubio and Nash the respective mice. Just in the way that Nash can find more holes than Swiss cheese in a team’s defense, so can Rubio. Their craftiness and overall court vision is unrivaled amongst their peers, making them the perfect matchup for this scenario. Before his injury, Rubio barely trailed Nash in APG and quickly became the trusted leader of the Wolves squad. If Kobe does not embrace Nash’s play the way the Wolves did with Rubio, it is possible Rubio could have an edge over his elder.
We saw in yesterday’s Olympic final that Love was desperately needed to battle Pau Gasol throughout the third and fourth quarter. Love was able to quickly limit Gasol's output and secure key rebounds to help lead the US to victory. Like Gasol, Love was incredibly valuable to his Olympic team in generating extra possessions from his size and work on the boards. But consider this stat per Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune- Pau Gasol & Kevin Love grabbed 61 rebounds each (most in Olympics). The difference- their minutes on the court: Gasol (228) & Love (138). Love is considered by many to be the best power forward in the game right now. While he might not be as strong defensively as Gasol, he is arguably the more valuable commodity due to his three point shooting and rebounding skills.
Bryant and Roy may not appear comparable in the slightest; however, even they own some distinct similarities. Both are recovering from the same blood-spinning procedure they took on this past year. Their success hinges on whether their knees can continue to battle the swelling and soreness as they play on. Bryant has proven he can still compete at a high level, inspiring Roy to pursue the same goal. Over the course of the next season, we will see if this surgery is truly revolutionary or simply a band-aid for greater ailments. On a side note, one can also not deny that before Roy went out he was one of the best closers in the game, a role that he and Bryant will likely take upon themselves even as they battle injuries.
2. Rick Adelman’s Past Success
Think back to the ‘Sacramento Queens,’ labeled as such by Shaquille O’Neal when he proclaimed “We ain’t scared of the Sacramento Queens” during the 2002 Western Conference Finals. This Sacramento Kings squad, coached by Rick Adelman, was desperately close to reaching the NBA Finals and making Shaq and his fellow Lakers the butt of their own joke. The Kings nearly defeated the mighty Lakers if not for some timely whistles, still highly controversial to this day. This hard fought series became the heart of the Donaghy allegations and its egregious calls still leaves a lasting stain on basketball a decade later. Spectators across the league were left to ask “What if?”, wondering if Adelman’s Kings were robbed for a chance at basketball glory.
Fast-forward to today and you’ll notice the 2012 Timberwolves seem to mirror that 2002 Kings squad with each team built around supreme foreign talent (Rubio, Kirilenko, Pekovic/ Turkoglu, Stojakovic and Divac) and players capable of knocking down corner threes (Budinger, Shved, Roy/ Jackson, Christie, Stojakovic) and effectively cutting to the basket. Add a once-in-a-generation forward/center hybrid in Love and Webber and one can dream these Wolves may go just as deep into the playoffs. The one person that will be able to shape this team into a strong playoff competitor is Rick Adelman. His unique ability to manage game lineups and draw the most from young talent could very well take these Wolves further than most expect.
3. Looming Risks for Lakers
Adelman is largely considered one of the best coaches in the league; the same cannot be said for Lakers coach Mike Brown. Many wondered if Brown would even return to coach the Lakers after losing to the Thunder in last year’s playoffs. Back for another shot, it will be championship or bust for Brown. Unlike Adelman, Brown is not nearly as effective at toying with lineups and tapping into his players’ innate talents. This fault leaves room for other teams to exploit the Lakers, forcing mismatches upon them and changing the tempo of the game.
The Lakers may also be forced to learn once again that the first time isn’t always a charm. We have seen multiple times throughout NBA history that chemistry doesn’t always develop within one season. Even after securing Shaq, Kareem and Wilt, the Lakers were never able to make the championship their first year. With nagging injuries plaguing Nash, Howard and Bryant, this season may be an even greater test for how quickly this team can mesh together. Wolves should view this situation as an excellent opportunity to not only make a splash in the playoffs but also threaten the Lakers if they ever see each other in the postseason.
The NBA is a league of favorites. Spectators and fans alike are more prone to make guarantees than to consider upsets and favor underdogs. More opinions will state with confidence that the Lakers are going to the Championship than the Wolves will make it past the first round of the playoffs. Let’s say the Lakers secure the #1 or 2 playoff seed and the Wolves land in the 7th or 8th spot. Who’s to say there isn’t a fighting chance for the team with more lakes than celebrities? Maybe there isn’t enough supporting evidence to make an argument for this case and this article is just a shot in the dark. One way or another, there is always room for hope and the potential for history to be made.
Some of you are acting like the Thunda and Lakers were equivalent teams and one added two hall of famers while the others did jack shity.
1) The Thunda were a much better team last year. At worst, the gap has closed, the Lakers haven't propelled themselves way behind this team.
2) Upside. NONE of the Lakers quartet is getting better. Kobe is older, Nash is older, Gasol is older, and Howard hasn't gotten any better for awhile now because he is immature and not very smart. OKC, meanwhile, has 4 stars (or 3 and Ibaka) who are going to be better than last year.
3) Several players already went off anonymously on how pissed Kobe and Nash are going to be at Howard's childish attitude. I would expect that he'd grow up, but not overnight.
(Now for two points against the Thunda)
1) Perkins has never been destroyed by Howard in a series because he, like Pek, doesn't care about who he is and he doesn't concede ground. In fact, he has played as if he were stronger much of the time. Howard is much more mobile, however, and the PnR with Nash/Gasol/Howard will be a monumental task for Perkins and Ibaka, neither of which excel there.
2) You are lying if you think Durant is suddenly a great two-way player. He is competent on D because he tries, is long, and is smart. He is not, however, a good one on one defender because he doesn't anticipate or move his feet well, yet. Watch 03-08 Artest, Iggy, Lebron, Rubio, etc. for disruptive one-on-one defense.
@Daddyfatsax Word. I'm just not sold on those old Lakers. And Dwight Howard IS still injured (note to WW.) It's not like he's completely fine right now. He had back surgery and they don't know exactly when he'll be back. Plus he won't have had any practice time or played with all his new teammates before. I don't see how that is expected to be some seamless transition???
And Nash. He's so old. And injury prone (at least, it limits him.) He plays like 30 minutes per game.
This Lakers team could be really good, but they aren't a lock for anything, the way I see it.
Damnit, forgot my 4th point against the Lakers.
4) They didn't really add 2 future HOFer's in the way the Celtics did. the #1 center replaced the #2-ish center. Clearly, Howard is better overall (not a better scorer, but who cares). But neither are leaders and Bynum was amazing for stretches last year (but strangely not when it mattered). Quit acting like they replaced Kwame Brown with Howard.
All that said, I still would put money on the Lakers but I can see OKC meshing well enough to dismantle them.
@Daddyfatsax Man I hate to say it but denial strikes deep. The Lakers got a new franchise guy and thus will be relevant for the next 8 years regardless of what happens with Kobe. I agree the team is not built for more than a 2-year run, but for this next year they are at worst a top 4 team and at WORST get beat by OKC in the conf. finals. I just think LAL has too much firepower at too many positions. Too much productivity. I think the Dwight clown act persona is a media-created figure. The Lakers have managed far worse attitudes.
Look, I hope I'm wrong. I hope Presti gets his thumb out of his ass and makes a move or two here. I want the Thunder to rise and win it all. Either way this league is just front loaded beyond whatever. I have no idea why other franchises enable the Lakers so often.
And don't forget the Lakers will be signing Kevin Love in 3-years. Those jackasses.
Can the Wolves sign Matt Barnes by the way? We still need a prick or two on the roster.
That is a ton of fire power on the Lakers (we didn't even discuss Jamison off the bench) and if it all happens to click there is little hope of anyone competing with them. If it doesn't, well...let's hope that's how it ends up. We're on the same side here. I just wish the Wolves had a chance beyond the first or second round.
DFS- When was anyone ever talking about the greatest team ever built?
CW - Of course the "wildcards" are only favorable if they lend a hand to your arguement. Perry Jones? That's your rebuttal? He gets to be this "really help, huge wildcard" in this but you act like Dwight Howard vs. Bynum is a wash and Dwight is going to hobble out on a walker and not be able to move? Be realistic.
Also, why on earth are you comparing the Lakers of last year to the Thunder of this year? You realize this conversation is happening because Dwight Howard and Steve Nash were added to the Lakers' roster?
Again, I really hope you are right.
@CollegeWolf I'll wait for him to respond but I don't read it that way.
@Pants80 That's what WW is saying.
WW, I just make point about how they aren't the best team every assembled as you seem to think and I'm in denial? How is this team so amazing? Maybe they are the best in the league, but there is nothing that makes them absolutely terrifying. Clearly the notion that the Wolves will beat them in the playoffs is far-fetched (maybe they are a bad matchup for the Lake show though, who knows), but it is not inconceivable for this team to lose to OKC or Miami. I have seen better teams. Get off their fyckin nuts, shit.
@WallyWorld @Daddyfatsax It should be noted that before the Howard injury last year he had never missed 5 games in any season. That includes his technical related misses. For a 7 footer to go 7.5 years in the NBA before getting injured ONCE is amazing. Lakers sold high on Bynum and bought Howard on foreclosure.
For the record, after OKC's collapse and capitulation against the Heat I'll be rooting for the Lakers if those teams do go head to head.
@Pants80 Unlike. The Heat are no longer the bad guys. I hate them less now. It's like picking between Jersey Shore or The Kardashians. Who do you hate more? You have to pick one. Discuss.
@WallyWorld The Heat aren't as bad as they were right now. Post championship, post Gold medal. At the time when Okc and Harden playing horribly in the finals they were in full villainy. LeBron redeemed himself a lot to me by playing so well in the Olympics.
Give all this hatred upheaval it is hard to know where my blackened heart will take me this year. At this minutes Lakers are above the Heat and OKC in my mind. Clippers are my overall most despised squad.
Beard choking Free Throws against Spain in an attempt to humiliate Team USA who were already celebrating is also factored in. This is especially painful to me because the only player in the NBA my two sons give a crap about is Beard because they like to say it (though in fairness one of them thought Beard = Kenneth Faried).
Welcome aboard. Great inaugural speech. Man I wish, I WISH the Wolves could hold a candle to those Kings teams of a decade past. Sadly the damn West just became even more of a powerhouse next year. Remember when the West was like East back in the early Garnett era? I do. Try ranking the top 8 in the west this year and see how hard it is to rank the Wolves above 7th without feeling like a psychotic, homer Knicks Fan.
I see your logic in the entire post and am ready to embrace optimism after an 8-year drought. All in. A lot of LAL's success will be on Kobe playing at a high level alongside Dwight. As much as we want to put that dog to sleep, Kobe will probably be around and playing at an elite level for the next presidential election. He will get his all time scoring record.
Señor Grooms, I like your optimism. It is virtually impossible to make predictions about the Wolves given the complete unknown abilities of Rubio (injury), Shved (unknown), and Roy (injury).
Remember, however, that the Thunder and Spurs were MUCH better than the Lakers last year. Do these additions and 1 subtraction (Bynum) make them ENORMOUSLY better? Because they will have to be to beat the Thunda. Also, I hope Gasol has secretly perfected that 3pt shot because Howard needs EVERYONE out of the lane. He is at is best likely with Jamison next to him, not Gasol. Maybe I'm overstating his offensive limitations since Nash is better at creating him opportunities than any PG he has ever had (Except my favorite, Skip to My Lou).
@Daddyfatsax Did you forget about the Lakers adding Nash? I guess maybe he MIGHT start to decline, but I doubt it.
The Lakers will win the West. Anyone who thinks OKC could beat them in a playoff series is in deep, deep, deep denial. Aside from what will be an anticlimactic season for the league barring injury, that finals matchup (MIA/LAL) is going to be very interesting.
PS...random question.....True or False....LeBron retires as a member of the Heat? FALSE, I say.
@WallyWorld @Daddyfatsax Bynum was one of the best centers in the league last year, if not THE best. It's not like they are adding Howard to a position that was devoid of talent. Plus Howard is still hurt. I'm with Daddy on this one.
And Nash... he can't even play 30 minutes per game. He's old. He has a terrible back (injuries), and he plays ZERO defense. I'm not sold on him at this point.
I will bet you that the Lakers do NOT make the Finals. You down WW?
(seriously though, is a deal based on those two with the Wolves adding more to the deal not within the slight range of realism? While Pek isn't near Beard's value, you have to think Presti mulls over deepening a discussion given how much that deal addresses needs for both teams, at least pre-Roy/AK47 from the Wolves' perspective).
@Pants80 @WallyWorld @Daddyfatsax Do you realize how truly awful Fisher was? He was providing negative win shares per game. And nevermind the fact that he's one of the worst defensive players in the league. He was BY FAR the worst defensive player on the Thunder last year. The Thunder are better off without him completely. So yes, Maynor is a gigantic upgrade over Fisher.
Comparing Bynum and Howard in terms of upgrade is like upgrading from Love to Garnett in his prime, or Bynum to Shaq in his prime. Howard is on a whole different echelon than Bynum. Not even close. His back will be perfectly fine.
Nash? Who knows what will happen. I agree. It could go either way, but I'm guessing whatever is favorable to LA because that is just how it always works for that fucking franchise. But as Pants said...we're talking about Ramon Sessions vs. Nash. His other contributions more than make up for his declining mobility.
Let's revisit the bet in October. I want to see if OKC actually makes any moves before carving the stone. You would also have to pick a team.
@CollegeWolf @WallyWorld @Daddyfatsax The Lakers starting SG against the Thurder was Ramon Sessions. He made exactly 1 shot from the floor in 3 playoff games (0 free throws in 2 of those). Even given Nash's limitations I think he is a MAJOR upgrade.
I'm also counting on a post Olympics rejuvenation year for Pau who was rubbish last year. Kobe basically made out with him after the gold medal game.
Lakers were sick of each other last season. Dwight and Nash will freshen it up. Also the Thunder were the least injured team last year. That can't go on forever.
A great point called out in this article is how good Peko is at drawing fouls and keeping bigs off the floor. I think the fact that Peko, Love, AK are ALL terrific at drawing fouls could be a major edge for the Wolves.
Even after those Laker deals, I still like a cHeat vs. Thunder rematch in the NBA Finals for next year. At least, that's what I'd bet on!
@CollegeWolf If it was only Dwight I might be able to agree. Nash is just killer. First off given his age and potential for injury every playoff run is potentially his last. Even worse he is so well liked the chances are that his calming force will stop Kobe from blowing up this team.
I found it interesting that Kobe clearly put his support behind Pau over Bynum before this deal happened. Pau as the #4 guy and finally able to move further outside is going to be murderous.
KD will have to be hotter than he's ever been before to take down the Lakers if they are healthy.
@Pants80 Ehhhh, I dunno. Thunder are a well-oiled machine. Will all these new Lakers have chemistry together? I mean, who's left from before? Just Kobe, Pau, and Artest (basically)? They have an almost entirely new team and bench.
And injuries... oh man don't even get me started there. They are an olllllllllllllllld team. And it sounds like Dwight won't even be ready by the start of the season, so that's even more damaging on the chemistry front.
And......... Mike Clown. He's the worst.
@CollegeWolf @Pants80 Well said @CollegeWolf I was more making an argument for the sake of debate. Truth be told, KD is probably my biggest man crush next to Rubio and Love. He is simply too hard a worker, too nice a guy and too spectacular a talent to not respect and root for. I truly hope that if the Wolves can't take out the Lakers the Thunder can.
@CollegeWolf Fair point, but compared to Mike Brown without Nash it is a plus.
@Pants80 @CollegeWolf Every player's defense was pretty awful that game but here's a few other stats to consider- KD Olympic Team Totals- REB (2nd), STL (2nd), BLK (1st), AST (4th). If Durant continues to improve his passing and defense this season I would go so far to say he would be the best player on either Thunder or Laker squad and the second best league wide
Woooohoooo @Grooms512 agrees with me! I win.
@CollegeWolf @Pants80 I am going to have to agree with CollegeWolf here simply because there are more question marks tied to Lakers than Thunder. Can Nash stay healthy w/o Phoneix training staff? Is Howard's back injury one likely to resurface given the beatings he takes? Will Kobe dismiss Nash and continue his age old habit of ball hogging? Can Mike Brown properly adjust lineups in game and effectively use his bench? The Thunder also have concerns coming into this season but their chemistry will only be enhanced after a full training camp. What's more, I saw some notable improvements from KD and Westbrook on the defensive end during these Olympics. Assuming that Ibaka and Harden improve at least marginally, they are still the quicker and more athletic team. Scott Brooks is also a better coach and leader for his team. I sense more miscommunication and perhaps even hostility between the Lakers and an overall harder time meshing together.
@Pants80 Hahaha, true.
But..... that's a recipe for success???
@CollegeWolf At this point I think Nash and Kobe will do what they want with the offense and Brown won't have much to say about it if it works.