With the acquisition of Steve Nash, the Lakers’ landscape has shifted. They now have a point guard whose complete package of skills have been lacking in all of his predecessors and a floor general that’s respected as much as any other in the league. He alone makes the Lakers a better team. Kobe is happy, Gasol is happy, everyone is happy.
That said, with Nash now handling duties at the point, there’s a general feeling that the Lakers should get on to making their next move. And unless you’ve been hibernating, you know which move I speak of: trading for Dwight Howard. The bait would be Andrew Bynum (and potentially more) but that’s what a lot of people are clamoring for. After all, Dwight is the better overall player and whoever has him in-house when the season starts will have the inside track to keep him next year. So, no brainer, right?
Well, yes and no.
I’m all for the Lakers making a move for Howard from a talent standpoint. As I’ve written before, in the most simple terms he offers an upgrade. Improving on a strength is still improving and if you simply look at Howard as the best pick and roll big man in the league – on both sides of the ball, I might add – and add him to a team with Steve Nash on it, you’re coming out ahead.
However, that talent upgrade isn’t the only variable. The point is that the Lakers must still make a smart move for their franchise that effectively balances their desires to win now (and in the future) while being conscientious about their long term payroll concerns. Steve Nash effectively added $9 million of salary to the Lakers’ books for the next 3 years, dramatically raising their payroll due to increased luxury payments next season with even larger payments to be made the year after next due to hikes in the tax rates.
The Lakers must be cost conscious with how they fill out the rest of their roster. This team can’t be quick to simply add a bunch of payroll in a trade for Howard regardless of how much they may covet the big man. There’s no indication of who the Magic want to include in any trade of Howard but my assumption would be that they’ll be looking to off-load at least one (and likely more) of the Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu, and Glenn Davis trio. All three of these players are over paid and both Davis and Richardson’s contracts run the same length as Nash’s contract, giving the Lakers less financial flexibility in the summer they’ll need to get under the luxury tax line to avoid the harshly punitive repeater tax.
Beyond the financial concerns though, the Lakers surely also look at Nash as the man that can help get the most out of the players they currently have on the roster – including Bynum – without having to make another deal. After all, Nash is the poster boy for “makes his teammates better”. If he can help improve the games of Kobe, Gasol, and Bynum the Lakers have already upped their “talent” level without making another big move.
Of course there will still be other, smaller, moves to make. They’ll need a legitimate back up for Kobe (and maybe even an additional wing beyond that player), can still improve in the front court behind Bynum and Pau, and can still seek out specific skill sets (namely shooters and/or high caliber defenders) to round out the team. Working to improve the bench is as a big a priority now as it ever was since the Lakers are simply too thin to win as currently constructed.
But, in terms of big moves, the Lakers should be patient. Surely they’d like to have the best players at all positions. If they can exchange the number two player at one spot for the number one guy, they should explore that opportunity and see what it takes to make it happen. However, they can’t blindly rush into the fray without examining the long term consequences nor can they discount how Nash can have an impact on the players they already have.
And, in the end, what’s not being said enough is that the Lakers have a fantastic consolation prize in house. If Howard doesn’t come, they still have Bynum – with full bird rights intact. They may be trying to hit a homerun, but if they fail they’re not striking out, they’re hitting a triple.