Mike Monroe: It’s business as usual with Howard to Lakers

Friday couldn’t have been any worse for Spurs fans unless Manu Ginobili had blown out both knees in Argentina’s Olympic semifinal loss to Team USA.

The team they most love to hate landed the NBA’s most dominant big man.

By adding Dwight Howard to a starting lineup that already includes Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol, the Lakers zoomed past the Spurs and Thunder to become the best team in the Western Conference.

Andrew Bynum may well have been the best center in the West last season, but he is both injury-prone and churlish. He missed only six out of 66 games last season, but in the previous four seasons he played in only 204 out of a possible 328 games.

In contrast, Howard is a veritable iron man. He missed only seven games in his first seven seasons before missing 12 last season.

Indeed, he had back surgery in April to repair a herniated disk and may not be at full strength when training camp begins in October, but hoping for a slow recovery is a measure of how impactful the deal was.

“Who knows how injured he is,” said one NBA general manager. “He has a back injury. There’s always risk even if you are perceived to win the trade.”

Can Howard really be a major upgrade over a player who scored 16 points and grabbed 30 rebounds when the Lakers handed the Spurs one of their two losses in 17 games in April?

“Bynum is a very good player,” said a Western Conference GM. “He just doesn’t have the explosive qualities Howard has.

“Clearly, the Lakers have been able to get the most physically dominant big man in the league. They had that in Shaq and now it seems as though they have the next legacy and transfer of power.”

The scariest part of the deal for the rest of the West?

Howard will have to prove himself worthy of his new team and teammates. That means a more serious approach — less clowning.

He may call himself Superman, but Howard won’t be the alpha dog on the Lakers. Bryant runs that team, and he’s already made it clear Howard must wait his turn before calling himself “the man” in L.A.

Remember what happened to the last Lakers All-NBA center who called himself Superman and clashed with Bryant?

Shaquille O’Neal had been an MVP and helped the Lakers win three championships, but Bryant saw to it he was traded away.

Howard’s Magic teammates wouldn’t stand up to him when he was being a diva in Orlando. Bryant won’t go along with that, and neither will Nash. Between them, they own three MVP trophies. Howard will have no choice but to fall in line, and a more focused Howard should frighten the entire league.

“Let’s be honest,” said another West GM. “Dwight hasn’t done anything in Orlando. Of course, (Pau) Gasol hadn’t done anything in Memphis when he was traded to L.A. You think wearing that purple and gold uniform made him feel more like a winner?”

Denver also became a tougher stop for every team in the West with Friday’s trade, but that hardly matters to franchises like the Spurs and Thunder that measure success by whether or not they are playing in June.

The Western Conference power structure starts at the top again with the Lakers and threatens what many of us believed had the makings of a new NBA dynasty in Miami.

Don’t doubt for a nanosecond that commissioner David Stern hasn’t already begun to consider the ratings bonanza a Lakers-Heat NBA Finals could produce next June. For all his talk about structuring a collective bargaining agreement that makes it possible for small-market teams to compete with mega markets like New York and L.A., Stern knows the benefits of having his best teams in his glamour markets.

Didn’t he famously declare some years ago that his ideal Finals would be Lakers against Lakers?


Twitter: @Monroe_SA

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