The unfairness of the Lakers surrendering Andrew Bynum’s bad knees and even worse attitude in exchange for Dwight Howard isn’t really worth discussion. Yes, I know the four-team deal was more complicated than what I just described. But I’m not discussing it. We knew the Lakers would get D12. They foreshadowed this deal by landing Wilt, Kareem and Shaq. They foreshadowed the ridiculousness of this deal when they were handed Pau Gasol for a Filet-o-Fish sandwich and a diet soft drink to be named later.
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The Lakers live off league subsidies. And Kobe Bryant is the NBA’s Welfare King.
Yes, this column is about King Kobe, the most pampered athlete in the history of sports.
Before I continue, let me offer this bit of context. I don’t hate Kobe Bryant, although I could understand why he and his fans might think I do. I frequently rip Kobe in my columns, and I’m reluctant to recognize his greatness publicly. I’m a lifelong, hardcore Magic Johnson fan. Magic is the second-greatest NBA player of all time, and the greatest Laker. One of my missions in life is to protect Magic’s legacy. I’m going to do everything I can to guard his rightful standing in NBA lore. I don’t care how many championships Kobe wins, he’s not now nor ever will be a better player than Magic Johnson.
Got it? OK, moving forward.
Kobe is spoiled. He’s lived off NBA food stamps his entire career. Has any player in league history played with four different All-Star 7-footers? Shaq, Howard, Gasol and Bynum. Are you kidding me?
Given all the help he’s received, it would be embarrassing if Kobe didn’t retire with eight titles. Let’s don’t forget, in Shaq’s final season in L.A., Kobe also got to play with Karl Malone and Gary Payton. Now Kobe gets a still-effective Steve Nash to play point guard.
Nash, Kobe, Pau, Howard and Metta Artest is one hell of a starting lineup. I know, I know, they’re all past their primes except Howard. I’m not sure it matters.
Oklahoma City is better on paper. The Thunder can match L.A.’s twin 7-footers with Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins. Russell Westbrook can run past and over Steve Nash. Kevin Durant is in his prime and better than the aging Bryant. With James Harden leading the way, the Thunder have a far superior bench.
But here’s the key. Dwight Howard can finally play basketball the way he was meant to play basketball. Howard was born to play defense, block shots, rebound and score as an afterthought. The ideal Howard stat line should read: 18 points, 16 rebounds, six blocks and five dunks. He can forget about spending summers working on his low-post moves. Kobe, Pau and Nash can handle the late-game scoring. Howard can worry about rebounding their misses and throwing down dunks.
If Howard plays the way he’s supposed to play, the Lakers can get by the Thunder. With Kobe and Nash, the Lakers will be significantly smarter than OKC.
We have two real hopes for L.A. failure: 1, the Heat. 2, the Lakers.
LeBron James is still the best player in basketball. More than likely, this Howard trade just snapped the Heat out of their post-championship haze. There’s a new challenge out there for James and Wade and Bosh. They whipped up on the OKC kids in June. Now there are some grown-ass men gunning for the Heat. It’s a fair fight. The Heat will be inspired.
Now, the Lakers could also self-destruct. This might be our best bet. This is quite the mix of personalities. Metta is certifiable. We know that. His name is Metta World Peace. Kobe is still the same moody ball-and-spotlight hog who ran Shaq out of town. How will Kobe get along with D12? Howard is a big, immature baby who thinks the game is indoor recess. In terms of maturity, Howard makes Shaq seem like George Will on Meet the Press. Pau is soft. Any off-court issue could send him into a prolonged funk. And Mike Brown has yet to prove he’s an elite coach. Can he handle this many egos?
No matter what happens, Kobe should not get credit for a sixth superstar championship ring if the Lakers win it all. This should count as a Robert Horry-like supporting player championship ring. Any titles Kobe wins with Howard should be marked with an asterisk and should not be considered of the same value as the titles Magic and Michael won.
The real all-time greats won titles without the benefit of welfare.