Getting Howard not the Lakers' only upgrade - NBC Sports

Getting Howard not the Lakers' only upgrade
Center is better defensively than Bynum, but LA also improved at point, small forward
Reuters
Dwight Howard is an upgrade for the Lakers defensively, but what makes L.A. so much better is all the upgrades made, including Steve Nash and Antawn Jamison, NBCSports.com contributor Ira Winderman writes.
August 14, 2012, 7:08 pm

Q: I'm sure you're glad, like the rest of us, that this Dwight-mare is over. But did the Lakers make out as big as being credited? They already had an All-Star center, and now they have another one. Why would this move put them over the top?
-- Roland, Portland, Ore.

A: First, I'm not sure it necessarily will. Oklahoma City still will have a say in the West, as will San Antonio.

Beyond that, your point is valid, in that the Lakers already had the best center in the Western Conference before the Dwight Howard trade, and opponents already had to account for the height of Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. An argument even could be made that the upgrade on offense from Bynum to Howard is not that significant (defense clearly is another story).

You are correct that if Howard was dealt to any other team, even the Knicks (who already have Tyson Chandler) or the Pacers (who already have Roy Hibbert), the difference in the middle would have been absolute. With the Lakers, it falls into the mere upgrade realm.

If you were to quantify the difference between this season's Lakers and last season's Lakers, it is the overall package that is the game-changer, with Steve Nash a huge upgrade over Ramon Sessions (or Derek Fisher) at point guard, Antawn Jamison in place to provide some of what Lamar Odom previously provided, and Jodie Meeks likely to offer more than Jason Kapano did from distance during his brief tryout at the start of last season.

The Lakers, as a team, are far, far better than they were last season, partially, but not solely, because of Howard.

The very success with Howard could come down to his willingness to play as a featured part of an ensemble, rather than the definitive primary focus he had been for his entire career in Orlando.

Q: Carmelo Anthony showed at the end of last season and then at the Olympics that he can be LeBron James or Kobe Bryant for the Knicks. Isn't it time he gets featured as much at the Garden?
-- Ben, Sheepshead Bay, N.Y.

A: First, he was featured practically to excess once Mike Woodson took over last season from Mike D'Antoni as Knicks coach, and figures to be cast in a similar fashion this coming season.

But the Carmelo we witnessed in the Olympics was a far cry from the iso Carmelo featured by Woodson all the way through the first round of last season's playoffs.

In London, Anthony played as a complementary scorer, mostly a catch-and-shoot presence, a role he filled to perfection. With the Knicks, he is asked to do far more.

To a degree, the Knicks have gotten away from the value of Amare Stoudemire since Anthony arrived. What the Olympics showed is that Carmelo might be capable of greater success when playing in rhythm with another star, instead of his own.

And that could come down to the Knicks' point guard situation. Therein lies the value of Jason Kidd, who might find Anthony in his sweet spot in much the same way he did with Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas. Of course, Kidd figures to be coming off the bench, with Anthony foremost going to have to make it work with Raymond Felton. And that is no slam dunk.

Q: Dwight this; Dwight that. What about my Clippers? They have been as busy as anyone this summer.
-- Felipe, Torrance, Calif.

A: In terms of known-quantity volume, you might be right, with the offseason additions of Jamal Crawford, Lamar Odom, Grant Hill, Willie Green and Ronny Turiaf, as well as getting Chauncey Billups back from injury.

The common theme there, though, is that each of the Clippers' acquisitions has seen better days, each on the downside. That isn't the case with the Lakers and Howard, or, for that matter, with what the Clippers landed last offseason in Chris Paul.

Unlike the Lakers, who added a star attraction in Howard, or, for that matter, the Nets, who added a definitive co-star in Joe Johnson, what the Clippers accomplished this offseason was strengthening the supporting cast behind Paul and Blake Griffin.

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Paul is a winner, with that again confirmed in London. But we're not fully sold at this stage that Griffin is more than an attraction. We might have gotten a better read had he made it to London.

Beyond that, until DeAndre Jordan offers reliability beyond highlight dunks and blocked shots, there still are holes in this lineup.

With the Lakers, Thunder and Spurs still a cut above, it again appears the Clippers' primary fight will be for homecourt advantage in the opening round. Even with the added depth, it is difficult, at this stage, to envision them anywhere beyond the conference semifinals.

Put this roster in the East, and you might have a case for the conference finals. But they're not.

Q: Has anyone done a better job in the East than Rod Thorn, with the Sixers adding Bynum, J-Rich, Dorell Wright and Nick Young? The depth is so much better than last season.
-- Marc, Cherry Hill, N.J.

A: I wouldn't overstate any of the acquisitions beyond Bynum, at least in terms of being difference makers.

Jason Richardson, Dorell Wright and Nick Young have been reduced to journeymen at this stage of their careers. They were available on the cheap for a reason.

No, what the 76ers' season will come down to is the growth from within, of Thaddeus Young finally taking that next step, Jrue Holiday lifting his game, Evan Turner filling the leading-man role vacated by the trade of Andre Iguodala for Bynum.

I'd give the 76ers a mixed grade. They will miss Lou Williams' instant offense, and, if they knew then that they would have been able to land Bynum, I think Elton Brand would have served as a far better complement than either Spencer Hawes or Kwame Brown.

To a degree, that makes the 76ers an evolving product, from the middle-of-the-pack team they were last season, to a team seemingly content to make minor tweaks in July, to a team now with a radically different look with Bynum.

You still can't put them ahead of the Heat, Celtics, Nets or Bulls-with-Rose at this stage. But they do have the potential to be what the Pacers were last season, a surprise team that makes enough regular-season noise to draw notice and respect.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/IraHeatBeat.
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