The Los Angeles Lakers were essentially able to flip Andrew Bynum for Dwight Howard on Thursday night, in a trade that happened about as suddenly as a sprint-jogged Usain Bolt victory in an Olympic final. And just that fast, the Lakers made themselves no worse than co-favorites to win the 2013 NBA title.
Bynum has been very good to great in his Lakers tenure, but he's not exactly close to Howard defensively, because Howard's probably the best interior defender in basketball. Howard's not as polished as Bynum offensively, but on a Lakers team with Kobe Bryant sniping, Steve Nash dishing and Pau Gasol providing much of the finesse inside, he probably won't need to be.
Howard and Gasol should give the Lakers an interior presence that no other team in the Western Conference nor the NBA can match, and that duo makes the L.A. front line a nightmare for the aging (Spurs and Celtics) and slender (Thunder and Heat).
This is the Lakers team every other team's fans didn't know it had to fear, and one that should be the odds-on favorite to at least make the NBA Finals.
One major worry: Howard is the youngest of the Fantastic Four L.A. will start virtually every night, and yet he might be the one with the most terrifying injury history. Howard went from being an every-night player to being unable to go because of back problems in 2011-12, and if he's going to be the tentpole for the Lakers once Kobe leaves, that's a worrisome red flag to have on the medical report.
A second: Howard's napalmed his reputation with fans over the last two years by smiling while his Magic twisted in the wind, and there's been a steady drip of leaks that he is difficult to deal with in the locker room. If the Lakers aren't an instant behemoth, the magnifying glass will surely singe Howard again.
But, then again: Howard's never played with a player as good as Nash -- even this wily veteran version of him -- and Nash is probably his third-best teammate now. If he's invigorated by being able to win a title and rejuvenated by sharing the load, it could be a scary Howard we see next season.
As for that draft pick the Lakers are sending Orlando: WHO CARES, DWIGHT HOWARD IS NOW A LAKER.