Not content to bolster the team with a two-time MVP added in free agency, the L.A. Lakers decided to add the best center in the NBA via trade. And we wonder why everyone outside of Southern California hates the Lakers.
FEATS OF STRENGTH
But seriously, this was some Yankees pre-2004 schtick. (The difference is that stars matter much, much more in the NBA than in baseball.) Landing Steve Nash, the most creative point guard in the league and an impossibly good offensive player, would have been a huge boon for a team that can get predictable when it has the ball (especially under Mike Brown and John Kuester). Then swapping Andrew Bynum (elite for one season) for Dwight Howard (elite for about six years now) is like instant victory. You know how the Heat held a parade to celebrate their free agency triumphs? The Lakers should have held a parade. Mitch Kupchak is a champion, even if the Lakers don't win a ring with this collection. He should be feted and he should wear a crown of jewels. The man did work.
The Lakers didn't even seem to be on Nash's radar until it was done. That's how powerful the draw of Kobe Bryant and all of those ringzzz have become. Nash picked the Lakers over Toronto (where he could have boosted the profile of the sport in a country for which he runs the national team), Phoenix (where he won two MVPs and made a ridiculous amount of money over the past eight years), New York (where he lives in the offseason) and Dallas (where he broke out as an NBA star and where one of his best friends Dirk Nowitzki still plays). He has no apparent personal ties to L.A., and in fact the Lakers and Suns had a pretty nasty rivalry for a while. And he chose the Lakers! That's why this was all so stunning and why it still leaves stars in my eyes just thinking about it. This was straight-up wizardry.
The Howard acquisition was different: once the Brooklyn Nets signed Brook Lopez and dropped their chase, it was the Lakers' trade to make or not make. They made it, giving up the fairest asset possible (Bynum). Howard is a clear improvement defensively, and might be an upgrade offensively, depending on how Kobe and Nash use him. The Lakers now have legitimate All-Stars at four positions. This is not fair.
If that's all not enough, the team also added Antawn Jamison to the bench. Jamison's well past his "best used by" date, but he's still a strong scorer (albeit an inefficient one) and has some monster rebounding nights. The Lakers won't exactly feel great if Pau Gasol is forced to miss some time and Jamison ascends to the starting lineup, but it's not the potential disaster it'd be were it, say, Troy Murphy checking in. The team also added Jodie Meeks (a neat shooter) and Chris Duhon (a defense-only back-up point). Those three -- Jamison, Meeks and Duhon -- instantly become the best players on L.A.'s bench. So ...
AIRING OF GRIEVANCES
... yeah, the bench is a huge problem. No worries, though. It's not like the point guard is 38 years old, the top scorer has 50,000 NBA minutes under his belt and the center is coming off back surgery. Oh wait, it's exactly like that. One injury to Nash, Kobe or Howard won't exactly spell doom for the Lakers, but it'll hurt those ridiculously lofty predictions everyone is making about them. This 73-9 nonsense? It's not going to happen. It's really not going to happen if Steve Blake or Chris Duhon start more than one game this season. Heck, even a short injury could cost the Lakers the No. 1 seed to the Thunder, who will (in my estimation) be playing with remarkable urgency.
The bench drop-off might be more steep than it is for any team, Heat included. (The Heat have slowly built the supporting cast around the Big Three up, with James Jones, Shane Battier and now Ray Allen.) In addition to that, the fifth starter -- Metta World Peace -- is alternately a perfect roleplayer and a disastrous flow-killer. Corralling him on offense is always a challenge, one I think Nash will be up to, but you can never be sure until you see it in action.
Finally, there is the matter of the coach. I'm in the camp that considers Mike Brown one of the smartest coaches in the NBA. He doesn't just build great defensive schemes -- and holy moly, he has Dwight Howard?! -- but he knows where and when he needs help. He seeks out aid on offense, where his teams have struggled. That said, I do wonder if the catcalls are getting into his head. Hiring Eddie Jordan to implement principles of the Triangle reeks of desperation. You have one of the smartest line-ups ever. Trust them. This feels like Brown getting too cute, and I hope (for Brown's sake, because again, I think he's gotten a bad rap) it works or he switches gears quickly.
Yes, I said I hope it works. And that brings me to the greatest grievance of all -- possibly my biggest grievance in the entire league right now: I despise the Lakers, and I cannot wait to see what the Lakers do.
Damn you, Kupchak.
It will be miraculous if ...
Dwight Howard is not named the TMZ NBA MVP.
Steve Nash Lakers jerseys don't make the top 10 in sales this season.
The Lakers fail to capitalize on Canada's love of denim by offering denim Nash jerseys.
Kobe Bryant fails to smile throughout the entirely of his first game with Nash and Howard.
Anyone remembers Pau Gasol exists.
We don't get a Phil Jackson rumor by Christmas.
Jordan Hill edges Dwight Howard in any "Top Free Agent Contracts of 2012" rankings not published on Bleacher Report, Slate or The Onion.
Chris Douglas-Roberts gets cut or sent to the D-League without making a big deal of it on Twitter. (Sorry, CDR, we love you.)
THE HUMAN FUND
Let's get sincere.
Team MVP: Dwight Howard
Team X-Factor: Kobe Bryant
Team Finish: 1st in Pacific | 2nd in West (you heard me, go Hornets, yeah!)
Best Chance at Championship: The actual championship. Dammit.
The Hook is a daily NBA column by Tom Ziller. See the archives.