Thursday, December 1, 2011 Updated: December 7, 10:49 AM ET
Dwight Howard in L.A.? It just might fly
By Arash Markazi ESPNLosAngeles.com
LOS ANGELES -- The third most popular basketball player in Los Angeles plays 2,500 miles away and has never lived in California.
He's more Disney World than Disneyland but is as Hollywood as it gets at heart.
Dwight Howard hasn't been traded yet but all indications are that the Orlando Magic center will be dealt at some point before the trade deadline and if his final destination ends up being anywhere other than Los Angeles, something went wrong. Somebody somewhere dropped the ball and this city and its future favorite son will suffer for it.
Howard belongs in Los Angeles. He's done everything but hop in a convertible and cruise down Sunset Blvd. singing Randy Newman's "I Love L.A." when hinting about his future plans and his refusal to sign a contract extension with the Magic.
Basketball fans in Los Angeles have already embraced Howard as one of their own in the hopes of his arrival. Do a Google search of Howard and you'll see plenty of superimposed Lakers and Clippers jerseys on his 6-foot-11, 265-pound frame. (Hey, fans with Photoshop can dream, right?)
Wouldn't it be nice to see Dwight Howard flying around Staples Center?
Howard's fate will end up being the first true personnel test for two organizations that have long lived on opposite ends of the NBA's spectrum but are now embarking on new paths toward the same goal.
There is, of course, the Los Angeles Lakers, which have won 10 championships under the guidance of owner Jerry Buss since 1980. The team began the Jim Buss era in May when Jerry's son essentially took over the reins and swept away Phil Jackson and nearly every remnant of his staff to begin anew with Mike Brown.
Then there's the Los Angeles Clippers, who have made the playoffs only four times since 1976 and have played in three different cities during that time under two different names. Clippers fans' dreams for a new owner to replace Donald Sterling haven't been answered yet, but the next best thing has happened: The emergence of Blake Griffin as one of the league's biggest stars has forced a once-frugal team to start spending money to build a championship contender around him to keep him with the franchise long after his rookie deal expires.
If the Lakers get Howard, they once again become the championship favorites and set themselves up for another run at a three-peat during Bryant's final three seasons under contract with the Lakers.
If the Clippers get Howard, they will become title contenders and just as importantly will become the new "it" team in Los Angeles. The Clippers' bandwagon with Howard and Griffin would be too heavy for even Howard to lift and to too tall for Griffin to dunk over.
The Lakers and Clippers should make this real easy for Magic general manager Otis Smith, who knows he will lose Howard after this season. They should send him a copy of their rosters with the names of Bryant and Pau Gasol crossed out for the Lakers and Griffin crossed out for the Clippers and ask him to pick two or three players. Both teams should also be willing to throw in a couple of drafts picks as well to sweeten the deal.
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For the Lakers, this could mean a package of Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom and for the Clippers it could mean a package of Chris Kaman, Eric Gordon and DeAndre Jordan.
This may seem like steep price to anyone who doesn't understand the magnitude of this moment for both franchises, but either trade is well worth it.
With all due respect to the tandem of Bynum and Odom or trio of Kaman, Gordon and Jordan, neither group would change the landscape of the league and Los Angeles sports as much as Howard would. He is the single most dominant force the league has seen since Shaquille O'Neal in his prime. He is the kind of player you rebuild your team around and reshuffle your roster for if you have the chance to get him.
Think back to the deals that ultimately brought Los Angeles its three most storied big men in Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O'Neal. Chamberlain was traded to the Lakers in 1968 for Darrall Imhoff, Archie Clark and Jerry Chambers. Abdul-Jabbar was traded to the Lakers in 1975 for Elmore Smith, Brian Winters, Dave Meyers and Junior Bridgeman. And before the Lakers could sign O'Neal in 1996 they got rid of Vlade Divac, Anthony Peeler, George Lynch and Sedale Threatt from a playoff team to create enough cap room.
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Each of those moves was somewhat controversial at the time, considering the amount of roster turnover involved, but ultimately resulted in championships and a Hall-of-Fame career for the center the Lakers got and relative anonymity for the players on the other end of the trade.
Drastic moves are never easy. Jim Buss clearly has an attachment to Bynum after so many second-guessed his decision to draft the 17-year-old with the 10th pick in the 2005 draft. Bynum has rewarded the Lakers in recent years by being one of the best big men in the league when he's healthy, but that has been a big if for a player who has missed 124 games over the past four seasons due to injury. Meanwhile Odom had the best season of his 12-year career in 2011, winning sixth man of the year honors.
Clippers general manager Neil Olshey is equally fond of Gordon and Jordan, his first and second draft picks in the 2008 draft and two major pieces of the Clippers' rebuilding efforts. Gordon was on last year's FIBA World Championship gold medal team and Jordan has developed into one of the more athletic and entertaining centers in the league with dunks that almost rival Griffin's. The high point of Kaman's career came when he played in the 2010 All-Star Game but he's never really been the same since due to injuries, and the Clippers need to move his expiring $12.2 million contract anyway.
As much as Buss and Olshey would like to watch their draft picks blossom and be rewarded for their production on the court, the fact they can potentially be flipped for one of the top five players in the league shows how valuable their picks were and they can personally thank them later when Howard wins a championship in Los Angeles.
Howard belongs in Los Angeles. Now it's just up to the Lakers or Clippers to make it happen and reshape the championship race in the league and perhaps how Los Angeles views its basketball teams.
Arash Markazi is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLA.com.