How Dwight Howard Trade Impacts Growing Lakers-Thunder Rivalry

In a day and age in which general managers take the easy road to success, the Los Angeles Lakers have once again abandoned the art of building a contender. From completing a sign-and-trade for two-time MVP to signing former All-Star Antawn Jamison, the route L.A. has taken is far from conventional but filled with business savvy.

And that was before they traded for Dwight Howard.

Never one to mix prospect evaluation and patience, the Los Angeles Lakers have pulled off a swap for the ages. Mitch Kupchak and company have sent Andrew Bynum to the Philadelphia 76ers and, in turn, received three-time Defensive Player of the Year award winner Dwight Howard.

They've also established themselves as the best paper team in the NBA.

Before we get ahead of ourselves and debate how much the Lakers will win the title by, let's remember who stands in their path. Specifically, let's not forget the fact that the Oklahoma City Thunder remain their greatest test to even escape the Western Conference.

A test that Kobe Bryant and company may not pass.

The Oklahoma City Thunder are not only younger and more athletic than the Los Angeles Lakers, but they also have more reliable scoring options. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are both threats for 25 a night, while James Harden may as well be a lock for 15-to-20 of his own.

Throw in Serge Ibaka's much-improved shooting ability and the return of Eric Maynor, and you have a dangerous team. You also have the best clutch performer in the NBA at this point in time in Kevin Durant.

The question is, can the Oklahoma City Thunder actually defeat the Los Angeles Lakers? More realistically, can the Lakers actually overcome the Thunder?

Upon acquiring Dwight Howard, that answer shifts to an emphatic yes.

We need not forget that the Orlando Magic won 50 games in every season from 2008 to 2011 and were on pace for such in 2012, whe...

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