The great Dwight Howard debate

Updated: June 30, 2011, 4:11 PM ET
ESPNLosAngeles.com

Dwight Howard Fernando Medina/Getty ImagesHow likely is it that Dwight Howard ends up in purple and gold?

It's too easy to picture and too perfect to ignore, which in the NBA usually means it won't happen. Dwight Howard wants to win championships, but doesn't have the right team around him. The Lakers win championships, but need a new superstar to keep winning them. Ergo, Dwight Howard should be a Laker.

If only "ergo" was enough to get the job done.

Unfortunately, for this deal ever to come to fruition, a hundred moving pieces have to line up in perfect order.

Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak and Orlando Magic GM Otis Smith would have to do the heavy lifting, but to speed things along, we went online and assembled a group of experts: ESPNLosAngeles.com writers Ramona Shelburne and Arash Markazi, ESPN.com senior writers Marc Stein and J.A. Adande, and ESPN.com salary-cap guru Larry Coon.

It's not enough to explain how this deal can work. You've got the trade machine for that. We've got to get deep, so there can be no lingering doubt.

So we'll start with something fundamental: Does this trade need to happen, or do we just want it to happen?

From: Ramona Shelburne
To: Arash Markazi

The Lakers are one of a handful of franchises in professional sports whose brand transcends the players and coaches. Like the Yankees in baseball, the Lakers don't just win championships, they win at everything. They have the hottest scene, the richest history, the best players and coaches, even the best street food outside the stadium. If there is a marquee free agent who makes it known he wouldn't mind playing for the Lakers one day, the Lakers figure out a way to make it happen. It's simply part of who they are, an existential imperative that's both character-defining and -revealing.

Dwight Howard is that kind of star. It's going to take a lot to bring him to Los Angeles, but the Lakers won't keep being the Lakers as we know them if they can't figure out a way to get it done.

Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O'NealGetty ImagesThe Lakers have a history of building around marquee big men.

From: Arash Markazi
To: Ramona Shelburne

I was with you until the last line there. I think the Lakers will continue to be the Lakers as we know them with or without Dwight Howard. I don't think he's a make-or-break player who will define how we view this franchise over the next decade. That said, it makes too much sense for him not to be a Laker.

As much as we celebrate the likes of Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor, the Lakers' championship heritage was largely built around their unprecedented legacy of big men with George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O'Neal and Pau Gasol. They wouldn't have won any championships without those centerpieces in the paint. The Lakers can see the writing on the wall now after they were swept out of the playoffs this year. Kobe Bryant is nearing the end of his career and it's time to rebuild around another big man. There's no one more perfect to carry on the Lakers' legacy of championships and big men than Howard.

From: J.A. Adande
To: Arash Markazi
CC: Ramona Shelburne

[+] EnlargeDwight Howard
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesWill another Superman patrol the L.A. airspace?

What makes the thought of Dwight Howard on the Lakers so tantalizing is that it would once again make Kobe Bryant the second-best player on the Lakers. As much as he flourished individually and later as a teammate with Pau Gasol aboard, the best Lakers teams in Staples Center were still when Kobe was riding shotgun with Shaq. At this stage in his career, Kobe isn't the best player in the league anymore ... but he'd be the best second-best player in the league.

From: Ramona Shelburne
To: J.A. Adande
CC: Arash Markazi

Wow, that's pretty staggering to think about. It's got kind of a "Lion King," circle-of-life quality to it. A real-life "Superman" and "Superman II."

From: Arash Markazi
To: J.A. Adande
CC: Ramona Shelburne

Of all the factors in this trade, the fact that Kobe Bryant would once again become the second-best player on the Lakers never crossed my mind. This might have been a problem before Bryant won back-to-back titles without Shaq and went to three straight Finals with "his team," but I think Kobe would actually embrace that role now. Of course, he would never admit to riding shotgun, and Dwight is too nice and too hungry to win his first title to start unnecessary drama by proclaiming himself as the team's leader. He knows that time would come in the near future.

[+] EnlargeKobe Bryant
Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty ImagesWill Kobe Bryant be willing to accept the role of second-best player on the team?

At this point in Kobe's career, he understands that nothing is more important than championships on your résumé. When we look at the number of titles Jordan won, no one cares how his role and his teammates changed over the years. All that matters is that he won six titles, and that's the only thing that matters to Kobe now.

From: Ramona Shelburne
To: Arash Markazi

Here's where this story becomes as much about Lakers vice president of player personnel Jim Buss as it is about Dwight Howard. For most Lakers fans, Jim Buss is the guy in a baseball cap who really, really likes Andrew Bynum and is one day going to take over the Lakers from his father. That makes this a defining moment for Buss. If he's seen as holding onto Bynum to build his own legacy at the expense of a chance to trade for Howard, Bynum better develop into a superstar.

This issue has come up several times before. Buss has always held firm in his belief in Bynum, and held off the calls to trade him. I've always wondered how much of that is because of how much his own history is tied to Bynum, or whether Jim Buss legitimately saw something in Bynum that the rest of us have missed.

From: Arash Markazi
To: Ramona Shelburne

I don't doubt that Bynum could one day rival Howard as one of the top centers in the league, but he will never be as good or as marketable as Howard is right now or will be over the next decade. It's not like Bynum, 23, is that much younger than Howard, 25. If anything, it's Bynum who looks like a brittle old man compared to Howard. While Bynum has missed 167 games in his six-year career, Howard has missed only seven games in his seven-year career. Bynum has all the potential to be a 20-10 player and a perennial All-Star, but he doesn't have the charisma to capture this city the way Howard does. Howard would not only be the most dominant big man the Lakers have had since Shaq, but he would also be the most entertaining figure off the court since the Diesel drove away.

Andrew BynumDerick E. Hingle/US PresswireAndrew Bynum might not be as untouchable in a trade scenario as some may think.

From: Ramona Shelburne
To: Arash Markazi

I usually think I have a pretty good handle on what the Lakers are thinking, but I've started to wonder whether the perception of Bynum's being "untouchable" is as solid as we've all come to believe it is.

Maybe the Lakers just haven't liked any of the deals for Bynum they've been presented with? I mean, in hindsight, I'd probably take Bynum over Kidd or Carmelo Anthony. Dwight Howard is another story.

There are two things I do whenever I don't know or understand something concerning the Lakers or another team in the NBA. E-mail ESPN.com salary-cap guru Larry Coon, or message ESPN.com senior NBA writer Marc Stein.

@ramonashelburne: How can Lakers get DHoward?

@STEIN_LINE_HQ: I'm in the middle of a labor stakeout in Dallas. But in short: I think the Lakers would trade anyone not named Kobe to get Dwight Howard.

@ramonashelburne: Hmm ... You sure Bynum's middle name isn't Kobe?

@STEIN_LINE_HQ: I suspect that even Bynum is "touchable" if Dwight is coming back the other way.

From: Ramona Shelburne
To: Larry Coon
CC: Arash Markazi

Can the Lakers actually get Dwight Howard for Bynum?

From: Larry Coon
To: Ramona Shelburne
CC: Arash Markazi

A deal sending Howard to the Lakers would be as simple or as complex as the Magic choose to make it. At its simplest, it can be one for one, center for center -- a straight-up swap of Howard and Andrew Bynum is legal under the league's current trade rules. But it's unlikely the Magic would be willing to let L.A. off that easily.

A more likely scenario is that the Magic insist that any deal for Howard also includes one of their bad contracts -- Gilbert Arenas or Hedo Turkoglu. Arenas is the player the Magic would prefer to include in any deal, since he's scheduled to make $19.3 million next season and a whopping $62.4 million over the next three.

Even if the next CBA includes an amnesty clause that allows teams to erase one player from their books, Arenas would still need to be paid his full $62.4 million. That's a little pricey, even for the Lakers, and even for the opportunity to acquire Howard.

A more sensible compromise might include Turkoglu instead of Arenas. A swap of Bynum and Odom for Howard and Turkoglu also would be legal under the current rules, and unloading Turkoglu's contract would save the Magic up to $45 million over the next four seasons.

Gilbert Arenas and Hedo TurkogluAP Photo/Nam Y. HuhWould the Lakers be willing to absorb the daunting contract of Gilbert Arenas or Hedo Turkoglu to get Howard?

From: Ramona Shelburne
To: Arash Markazi
CC: Larry Coon

Gulp. Gilbert or Hedo? That's like asking if I want to sit in the middle seat on a 12-hour flight or sit next to the guy who keeps sneezing.

From: Arash Markazi
To: J.A. Adande
CC: Ramona Shelburne; Larry Coon

Larry Coon says L.A. would probably have to take back Hedo or Gilbert for Dwight Howard. If you're the Lakers, would you trade for Dwight if it meant taking back the monstrosity known as Gilbert's contract?

From: J.A. Adande
To: Arash Markazi
CC: Ramona Shelburne

The Lakers would have to do this trade even if it means taking back Gilbert Arenas' contract, even if it means parting with both Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum.

One thing, they'd have to include Ron Arte-- … Metta World Peace in the trade. Can't have Agent Zero and World Peace. Too much wackiness for one squad.

From: Ramona Shelburne
To: Arash Markazi

I can't even look at Gilbert's contract without hearing slasher-movie music in the background, so I'm just going to pretend that the new CBA will include that "amnesty clause" Larry mentioned and the Lakers' new TV deal will allow them to cover it.

I think the real question is how badly Dwight wants to come to Los Angeles. As LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony have proven over the last year, the superstar players control the NBA now. If Dwight really wants to be a Laker, his agent, Dan Fegan, will find a way to get him here.

It might be a little messy. And it might not leave him many fans in Orlando, but from the outside looking in, I think he's already started reading the lines from the "Superstar Exit Handbook."

Step 1: Repeatedly say you want to stay in Orlando/Cleveland/Denver/Toronto, but "only if you are surrounded by a championship team."

Step 2: Refuse to sign an extension with Orlando/Cleveland/Denver/Toronto in order to "keep your options open."

Step 3: Do press events in your preferred destination city. Smile at local reporters when they ask how great it is to play in The Garden/With Dwyane on the Olympic team/On the same team as Kobe.

Step 4 (Repeat Step 1): Reiterate that you want to stay in Orlando/Cleveland/Denver/Toronto, but "only if you are surrounded by a championship team."

From: Arash Markazi
To: Ramona Shelburne

I totally agree. At the end of the day this will come down to where Howard wants to go. If he truly wants to be in Los Angeles, and I have feeling he does, the Magic and the Lakers will find a way to make this happen. The Magic were burned before when faced with this exact same scenario and were left with nothing 15 years ago and they're not going to let that happen again. They saw what happened to Cleveland and Toronto last summer and will know when to give up the dream of keeping their superstar and get as much as they can in return.

Howard understands if he comes to Los Angeles and does what Shaq did, he will be an immortal and his name will be placed alongside Mikan, Wilt and Kareem in the Lakers' Mount Rushmore of centers. He might get a nice parade in Disney World if he finds a way to lead Orlando to a title, but he will likely get statue built in Los Angeles if he ushers in the Lakers' next dynasty.