Is the Dwightmare Just Beginning for the Rest of the NBA?

March 6, 2012; Charlotte, NC, USA; Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard (12) leaves the court after the game against the Charlotte Bobcats at Time Warner Cable Arena. Bobcats win 100-84. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-US PRESSWIRE

Dwight Howard to the LA Lakers could very well be a nightmare for the rest of the league. Steve Nash was already going to give the Lakers some offensive flash, and now they have Howard to patrol the paint better than they would if Andrew Bynum were still there. But the real "Showtime" was already there when Steve Nash was traded to LA without LA sacrificing much more than the "Lamar Odom" trade exception. It is apparent to most that the Nash-Howard pick-and-roll will be the best in the league, as Howard was already an unstoppable in that category on a points per play basis:

The trade vaulted the Lakers (3/1 shot) to 2nd behind the Heat (2.5/1 shot) in the odds to win 2013 NBA Championship. The Celtics are only tied for 8th with the Pacers at 25/1. Maybe Danny Granger is smarter than we think (Granger sees Pacers No. 2 in East). In between are the Thunder (5.5/1), Bulls (9/1), Spurs (14/1), Mavericks (20/1), and the Clippers (20/1).

So out West, you have to wonder why they play the regular season games if the Lakers and Thunder are virtual locks to meet in the Western Conference Finals. But hold on your to your horses out there in wild, wild west . . . read what Bradford Doolittle of Basketball Prospectus at ESPN Insider has to say.

"As inevitable as the Lakers' 17th championship might seem this morning, chances are it's not going to happen this coming season. And given the collective age of the Steve Nash-Kobe Bryant backcourt, the next batch of rings might not be so easy to earn.

How much improvement? In a vacuum, the Lakers are improved. They brought in Howard and as far as current rosterable players go, lost only Bynum and Christian Eyenga. . . . However, in terms of closing the gap with the champion [Heat] not to mention the [Thunder], the top team in L.A.'s conference -- how much did the Lakers really accomplish? From a statistical standpoint, the answer to that depends on how much more valuable you think Howard is than Bynum."

So the point is that the Lakers gave up a really good center in Andrew Bynum, who has had health issues with his knees, but is two years younger than Howard. In Howard, they are hoping that the surgery to repair a herniated disc and remove some bone fragments presents no long-term issues. He's already going to miss the start of the season, where he was supposed to be ready, but I'm sure his back will be back by December.

Now I'm not an MD (only a PhD in rocks), and I'm sure the Lakers did their due diligence, but there are plenty of red flags for Howard where surgery, albeit "minimally invasive", was required to mend the herniated disc. When any surgery on the back is required, it can not be assumed that the pre-surgery performance levels can necessarily be achieved for professional athletes, especially for players that rely on their athleticism to the extent that Howard's big body does.

Now it is ironic that a Celtics blog would want to belabor "disc issues" when Coach Doc Rivers battled a herniated disc by nonsurgical means for 13 seasons as a player, and suffers periodically to this day in his role as coach of the C's. Now the Celtics have their own "disc issue" player in Jared Sullinger who also has a herniated disc. You saw how most teams were allergic to a player that was known to red-flagged before the draft. Rest assured that we'll all be well-educated on "disc issues" before all is said and done.

The fact is that a surgical solution for repair of a herniated disc puts the risks much higher for a full recovery than non-operative solutions. What I'm saying is that Howard's injury was pretty serious to have to go under the knife.

Currently there are only a handful of NBA players that have battled herniated disc issues by surgical means. Chris Taft, the 42nd pick in the 2005 draft by the Warriors, is one example of how the surgery was unsuccessful. He played 17 games in his rookie season and was waived after the 2006 surgery and has not returned to the NBA. Amare Stoudemire is playing with a "bulging disk" which is mild compared to a herniated disc, and you can see how that has been slowing the Knicks big man down this season. I'm not aware of any surgical procedures leading to full recovery, but everyone is saying Howard's was a low risk operation. We'll see. . . .

Even if Howard makes a full recovery, Doolitle opinion has to be sobering to the LA fans:

"The acquisition of Howard probably will improve the Lakers more than it appears in the spreadsheets. Howard is a better pick-and-roll partner for Nash than Bynum, who is more of a pure low-block player. Gasol should be a nice complement to Howard. . . . Lakers fans should be excited this morning because their team is in the championship conversation. But they were in that chat yesterday as well. While Los Angeles has improved itself in the margins and added a degree of certainty to its outlook, the Lakers are no sure bet to escape its conference, much less knock off the Heat."

And LA still has to get to the Finals. After all, the Thunder are great and going to be older and wiser. The Spurs are very good, and the Nuggets and Clippers got a lot better during the off-season. The Mavericks and Timberwolves may surprise as well. Regardless, the Lakers were already rated higher than the Celtics prior to the Howard trade because of the addition of Nash.

Ramifications of the Howard Trade for Celtics

Alas, this Howard trade impact on the Celtics is not as much as what it does to the Lakers as what it does to the Southeast Division of the Eastern Conference. Simply put, it makes the regular season that much easier for the Heat. The Palm Beach Post writes:

"OK, the Heat was a lock to win [the Southeast Division] anyway, but with the Magic joining the Bobcats in full rebuild mode, the Wizards still trying to get off the mat, and the Hawks taking a step back to take two forward - and now with little chance to ever add the hometown boy Howard - LeBron James may never play a fourth quarter in a divisional contest."

True that. It's pathetic for the other teams to watch the Magic willingly lay down this season due to the Howard/Jason Richardson give-away for Aaron Afflalo, Al Harrington, Nikola Vucevic, rookie Moe Harkless, Josh McRoberts, Christian Eyenga, three conditional 1st round picks, and two 2nd round picks. Unless Big Baby Davis, Gusavo Ayon and Vucevic are ready to surprise everyone, only the Hawks will be giving the Heat a sniff at any divisional competition this year.

And then there's the Sixers who Who Just Got Taller, and they hope better, by swapping out Andre Iguadola and Harkless for Andrew Bynum and Jason Richardson. Since the Celtics play the Magic three times versus four times against the 76ers and twice against the Lakers, the trade definitely hurts the Celtics as well as most other teams in the NBA.

It still is going to be the Heat versus the Celtics in the East (sorry Danny Granger), with the Heat unfortunately having home court advantage again. However, I remain convinced that the Celtics chances are much improved than any other team with the moves they made this summer (the subject of future article I'm sure). In fact, it is clear that only LA out did the Celtics.

So accounting for Denver's improvement as well as the Lakers, I'd say the NBA landscape has slightly shifted to the West Coast. The odds makers certainly think so (the odds makers have Denver tied for 12th with the Knicks at 35/1). But if the Lakers are destined to be in the Finals this year, the Celtics getting past the Heat will only be that much sweeter.

Beat LA!

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