By BEN JOHNSON
As of today, the Oklahoma City Thunder can still claim to be the NBA’s second best team. That’s not going to change until the 2012-2013 season starts.
Then, it’s up for debate again.
The Los Angeles Lakers made a serious bid on Friday — or late Thursday night, however you want to look at it — to reestablish themselves as one of the league’s powers.
But wait, it might not be so plainly obvious as to why they catapulted themselves back into title contention.
Sure, getting Dwight Howard boosts anyone’s front line. But disposing of Andrew Bynum — and his crybaby attitude and childish ways — helps immensely. That’s worth the trade alone.
In fact, the Lakers shedding themselves of Bynum would have been good even if in return that got a roll of quarters and pack of gum.
Here’s a guy who has proven he’s pretty injury prone, and has taken it upon himself to prove he’s a bad teammate, time and time again. For example, posting 25 points and 14 rebounds one night, only to follow it up with seven points and four boards proves you either don’t care or you just don’t’ get it.
Bottom line, the guy is just bad news.
Hopefully he’ll change his ways in Philadelphia — a team that dumped Andre Igoudala (and his soon to expire contract) for a guy who grew up in New Jersey.
As for the Lakers, dropping a team cancer for the league’s premier rebounder — pretty good scorer when he wants to be — is nothing be music to the ears of those Hollywood types.
Howard also gives the Lakers an added dimension defensively. He’s going to be the back line of defense around the rim — and that’s if other teams get past still-respectable defenders in Kobe Bryant and Ron Artest (or Metta World Peace, whatever you want to call him).
On offense, Howard will be paired with quite possibly the most charitable point guard (Steve Nash) in league history — well, maybe second to John Stockton. But just imagine Nash running the pick and roll with Howard. That’s going to equal plenty of highlight reel dunks.
And that’s not even counting the pick and rolls Nash can orchestrate with Pau Gasol.
Another option: the pick and pop with Kobe. Or, if Nash and Howard (or Gasol) operate in the pick and roll, Bryant will be left wide open to knock down a mid-range jumper or a 3-ball.
Quite scary for the rest of the West.
While there’s no panic running rampant on I-35 or the Turner Turnpike, there’s at least cause for concern now.
In this past season’s playoffs, the Thunder made dispatching of the Lakers look like a piece of cake. LA looked lethargic while Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook dominated.
Russ and KD will continue to be superstars, but don’t count on OKC breezing past Sin City quote so easily in 2013. The Lakers will make a ticket to the NBA Finals much harder to obtain.
All it took was blockbuster mega deal, but all of a sudden the race in the Western Conference became infinity more compelling.
Don’t count on the Lakers being able to compete at a high level for very long with their current roster. Bryant, Nash, Gasol and Artest are aging, but for a couple of years we could have some special matchups — and perhaps a new rivalry — between LA and OKC.
Too bad the season doesn’t start for a couple of months.