Dwight Howard is now a Laker, and who didn't see this coming?
Wilt in 1968. Kareem in '75. Shaq in '96. Now Howard in 2012. The gravitational pull of the NBA's best center to LakerLand is irresistible.
You thought the Buss family or the ghost of Jack Kent Cooke or Jack Nicholson were going to sit back and let the Thunder commandeer the Western Conference pole position? You thought the basketball gods were going to let the Lakers slip into irrelevancy. Let the Clippers own Los Angeles?
History. Pay attention to history. This is the way the NBA works and has for nearly half a century. This is not Sherwood Forest. In this league, you rob from the poor to give to the rich.
But that doesn't sentence the Thunder to peasantry. Yes, the Lakers have assembled an all-star team of Steve Nash, Pau Gasol, Kobe Bryant and Howard, or at least a Wax Museum of hoops royalty.
Still, the Thunder remains uniquely built to beat the Lakers. The Thunder still has the three prime ingredients needed to knock off LA:
1. Defensive big men who negate the Lakers' overwhelming size. Serge Ibaka is the league's best shot blocker, and Kendrick Perkins is a post defender without peer. Sure, we don't know if Ibaka will be a Boomer long-term. Same can be said for Howard and Gasol in LA.
But while most every other NBA franchise shudders at the thought of defending LA's twin towers, the Thunder is well-primed. Perkins' value was minimal against the Heat. It's maximal against the Lakers.
2. A wing defender who can dog Kobe Bryant. Thabo Sefolosha rattles Kobe into many a dark night. Kobe shot 42.6 percent from the field in the Thunder's five-game playoff victory last May; he was just 2-of-18 from 3-point range.
3. Young legs. The Lakers were old and decrepit the last couple of years; now they've added the 38-year-old Nash and Howard, who is coming off back surgery. The Thunder's core will be 23 (James Harden, Ibaka) and 24 (Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook) next season. The Thunder ran the Lakers ragged in the playoffs and will have the potential to do the same next time.
To be fair, the Lakers are better built to beat the Thunder than they were two months ago.
Nash certainly invigorates the Laker offense with much-needed flow. If Kobe and Nash can co-exist, the Lakers will be hard to guard for anyone.
And while Nash is a defensive disaster who really can't guard anyone anymore, the addition of Howard will help immensely. When Westbrook blows past Nash, which he will anytime he tries, Howard will be waiting. Frankly, that's the biggest upgrade for the Lakers from Andrew Bynum to Howard.
So it promises to be fascinating basketball, should the Thunder and Lakers meet in the playoffs for the third time in four seasons.
But back to history. The Lakers traded for Wilt Chamberlain in 1968 – and didn't win the NBA title until 1972. The Lakers traded for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1975 but didn't win the championship with him until 1980. The Lakers signed Shaquille O'Neal in 1996, then waited until 2000 for the title.
So that's four-year waits for Wilt and Shaq, and a five-year wait for Kareem. The Thunder seems poised to make Dwight Howard wait, too.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.