The Los Angeles Lakers struck gold last week when they landed this summer's best available player, Dwight Howard, in a monstrous four-team deal that shook up the NBA. In exchange, the Orlando Magic received three protected first-round draft picks, guard Arron Afflalo, and forward Al Harrington, plus a few other non-stars. Other NBA teams cried foul: After all, one of the goals of last year's labor negotiations was to level the playing field for small-market teams (Salt Lake City, Toronto, etc.), which face a competitive disadvantage when it comes to luring superstars. Some say that Howard's move to the bright lights of Hollywood, where endorsements come easy, only reinforces the notion that the rich are getting richer, creating "super teams" like L.A. and Miami while the rest slump into mediocrity. Does Howard's move west spell bad news for the balance of the league?
Absolutely: The Lakers now have the best starting lineup in the NBA with Howard, Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, and Pau Gasol, says Gordon Monson at the Salt Lake City Tribune. "Life in the NBA isn't fair," which wouldn't be so troubling if the league weren't built on the pretense of competition. The "difficult truth" is that the league's integrity is simply up for sale, and last year's lockout "didn't do enough to balance the equation for underprivileged teams that don't have the resources to commit to winning."
"Monson: Jazz suffer while Lakers epitomize unfair NBA"
But spending big doesn't guarantee success: The Chicago Bulls had the best record in the NBA last season and didn't go over the salary cap, says Andrew Sharp at SB Nation. Neither did the Oklahoma City Thunder, or the San Antonio Spurs — both top-five teams. These small market franchises prove that it isn't about how deep your pockets are. They were "lucky and smart" and built their teams through savvy draft picks. Dollar signs don't guarantee wins; just take a look at the New York Knicks: Since 2002, they've paid $195 million in luxury taxes, and have won exactly one playoff game.
"No, the Lakers didn't 'buy' Dwight Howard and a superteam"
You have to give the Lakers credit: The NBA is a business, says Henry Abbot at ESPN. Think about it this way: "The most qualified law students are drawn to the best law firms." The league is the same way, and a team like the Lakers have earned every bit of their success. They've taken "enormous" risks, trading center Vlade Divac in his prime for an untested high school kid named Kobe Bryant, for example. And now they traded away Andrew Bynum, who just had his best year ever, to acquire Howard, who's returning from a risky back surgery. "If the Lakers can figure out a way back to the Finals in 2013, tip your cap to them."
"Another superstar joins another super team"