With all the courtship that has been going on for Dwight Howard’s services over the last week, one may be inclined to think that if he leaves Los Angeles, the Lakers will enter a downward spiral and burn into flames. However, this is definitely not the case.
Sure, the Lakers will be better off with Howard on their roster. He is and should be the biggest priority for the Lakers this offseason. He’s a dominant force on both ends of the court and if his shoulder shows signs of improvement, he could put up MVP type numbers like he did in Orlando in 2013-14. There is no doubt that the team has a better chance to win a title with him in the lineup.
With that said, having Howard in purple and gold is not a necessity for the team to be successful this year and beyond. This isn’t the same situation the Cleveland Cavaliers faced when LeBron James bolted to Miami, leaving Cleveland with limited and marginal players.
If Howard leaves, the Lakers will have seven players on the roster for 2013-14 in Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Metta World Peace, Jordan Hill, Steve Nash, Steve Blake, and Jodie Meeks. The team has also given center Robert Sacre a qualifying offer to bring him back. Finally, assuming they sign second round pick Ryan Kelly, the Lakers will have nine men on the team.
No matter what happens with Howard, the Lakers must bring in a few bench players this summer who can shoot, defend, and show signs of athleticism that will fit in Mike D’Antoni’s fast paced system. Even if Howard stays, the Lakers aren’t winning anything without some much needed depth.
But, if Howard leaves, even more importance will be placed on the quality of the players they decide to bring this summer. There are plenty of shooting options available for the Lakers in free agency and they can definitely improve their depth if they make the right moves. They’ll need to rely on their mini mid-level exception plus a few good pickups with their veteran’s minimum, but it’s not out of the realm of possibilities that they succeed using their exceptions.
Once Kobe returns from his injury, the Lakers could have a potent starting lineup featuring Gasol, Hill, World Peace, Bryant, and Nash. Additionally, D’Antoni can have the flexibility to fully run his system without having to try to appease Howard. The Lakers can become the run and gun team D’Antoni has wanted to see.
There was also precedence of the Lakers doing well without Dwight in the lineup. The Lakers were 3-3 last season when Superman was injured. However the three losses came with Gasol out of the lineup as well. With Kobe, Gasol, and Nash healthy, the Lakers were 3-0 with a +7 differential per game. In fact, having every member of the “Big Four” in the lineup got a bit crowded at times. The Lakers were clearly better with just three of the four stars on the court at once.
Losing Howard will also mean that Jordan Hill will have a chance to step up and finally get a long awaited opportunity to be a full time starter in a contract year situation. Hill has never averaged over 20 minutes per game in a season throughout his career, but he has put up solid Per 36 numbers (15.2 points, 13.0 rebounds per game) along with a 18.5 PER last season. He’s definitely earned a chance to start and if Howard leaves, there’s a good chance he will earn that spot.
What about the time without Kobe in the lineup as he nurses his injury?
Luckily for the Lakers, the first two months of their schedule are generally filled with tons of home games. The schedule hasn’t been released yet, but November and December are generally packed with dates at Staples due to the Grammy Road trip in early February. The Lakers could manage to float above .500 with Gasol and Nash if they have a plethora of home games. When Kobe returns in 2014, they will then maximize their potential for the playoff run.
Best of all, if it doesn’t work this year with this bunch, the Lakers literally start from scratch in the 2014 offseason when all but one of their contracts come off the books.
Once again, signing Howard should be the priority. However, let’s not act like the Lakers are toast if he doesn’t return.
The Lakers biggest problems last year were health and cohesion because of the installment of a new head coach with a unique system in the first month of the season. When chemistry started growing in the second half of 2012-13, the Lakers started winning more games until injuries derailed them in the playoffs.
The bottom line is that the Lakers can still be a contender without Howard. They just need to get lucky in terms of the injury bug.
Not firing your head coach in the first two weeks of the season could help, too.