First, lets just get this out of the way; the Los Angeles Lakers are never far away from contending for a championship. For whatever reason, be it the weather, the glamour of the city, the history of the franchise, luck, or stupidity of other teams, the Lakers are right around the corner, even if it seems like they will be bad for a while. However, the Lakers are entering a unique time in their history.
While it may be a story from last year, Dwight Howard leaving the Lakers is still quite amazing. While the Houston Rockets no doubt look to be in much better shape going forward right now than the Lakers, with the prospect of playing with James Harden, who still hasn’t hit his prime just yet, being quite a bit more enticing than playing with a decrepit Kobe Bryant, it is still somehow weird to think Howard would pick another team besides the Lakers.
For one, they could offer him more money than anybody else, which generally goes a long way in determining where a player will land. Also, how many star players in their primes have ever left the Lakers, on their terms, and just walked away? I can’t think of any, and it remains to be seen whether or not Howard is a unique case, it is something to watch going forward. Personally, Howard seems to be a different kind of guy, he had the opportunity to own L.A., but didn’t want all the pressure coming with that title.
Either way, it was at least a temporary blow to the Lakers, as they basically rented Howard for a year, and lost him without getting anything in return. It’s generally thought in order to win championship in the NBA, you’ll need to have at least one of the top 15 or so players in the league, and while Howard maybe not quite as good as he used to be, he is still definitely in that category. Those players don’t come around all that often, and with the Lakers’ current salary cap situation it could remain difficult to land any stars for a few more years.
The rapid decline of Pau Gasol has been sad to watch, as he was one of the more intriguing players to watch when he was in his prime. His contract is up after this season, so he is going to be gone one way or another. Its hard to imagine him wanting to come back to the Lakers after his head-butts with head coach Mike D’Antoni over the use of him, as well as the Lakers wanting to give him some sort of any lengthy or expensive contract. The unfortunate circumstance for the Lakers is that they ideally would have traded him a year or two ago, as it is always better to trade a player one year early, than one year late. The haul the Lakers could potentially get from him won’t be nearly as good as it could have been a year ago.
Last, but not least, the Western Conference is loaded! There are so many good teams in the West right now, with a few looking to be stalwarts for years to come, that this could be a bumpy stretch of years for the Lakers.
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