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Lakers need Dwight Howard, but can they get him?

January 21, 2012 |  8:14 am

Andrew Bynum/Dwight Howard

Dwight Howard soared. Andrew Bynum sunk. Howard blocked. Bynum fouled. Howard provided another reminder why the Lakers should want him. Bynum provided another reminder why the Lakers should deal him.

The Lakers' 92-80 loss Friday to the Orlando Magic provided one obvious answer. The Lakers need Howard before the trade deadline. But it just raises another obvious question. How on Earth can the Lakers acquire Howard when their centerpiece revolves around a player Howard severely manhandled?

It might seem surprising to what degree the Lakers' offense remains a mess. But it shouldn't seem surprising that Howard (21 points, 23 rebounds) outmatched Bynum (10 points, 12 rebounds), unless of course you're Shaquille O'Neal. But just as Bynum appeared to be elevating his play and market value, he provided a visual reminder on how much more he has to learn.

Avoiding foul trouble. Remaining aggressive. Passing and posting up on double teams. Preventing offensive putbacks. All areas Bynum lacked inconveniently before an audience the Lakers hoped would remain impressed with Bynum as Howard's alternative.

It's easy for Lakers fans to shout at the top of their lungs that Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss need to acquire Howard before the trade deadline. But what incentive does the Magic have to accept their offer? Even Orlando's worst-case scenario in Howard leaving as a free agent proves more favorable at this point. Clearing up cap space and a high draft prospect proves more valuable than acquiring a set of players that don't fit into the team.

His strong start has ensured a career-high 15.8 points and 13.6 rebounds in 34.3 minutes per game. But he's currently proved unable to maintain that start through double teams. Those would only increase with the Magic as he'd be surrounded with a severely less taleneted supporting cast. That means the Lakers would surely have to give up more than just Bynum, a $8.9 million trade exception and young and inexpensive players to get Howard. Bynum's poor play only hardens Orlando's expectation that Pau Gasol should be thrown in the mix too. 

But that's a path the Lakers currently have refused to take, requiring them to have a backup plan. Do they then chase Deron Williams more aggressively since he'd solve the Lakers' heaviest needs in the backcourt? Do the Lakers' play it safe by maintaining their core group and adding smaller parts that bolster a flimsy bench? Do they just stay put, and hope that the Lakers' horrific play suddenly changes through more practice time and hard work? 

After Howard vividly displayed Friday the deep divide that remains between himself and Bynum, those aforementioned questions just became more complicated and uncertain.


Andrew Bynum downplays comparisons with Dwight Howard 

Lakers should still covet Dwight Howard over Andrew Bynum

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar sizes up Andrew Bynum, Dwight Howard

-- Mark Medina

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Photo: Lakers center Andrew Bynum takes it on the nose as Magic center Dwight Howard spins toward the basket in the second half Friday night in Orlando. Howard would lead the Magic to a 92-80 victory with 21 points and 23 rebounds. Credit: John Raoux / Associated Press