The news broke late last night: Dwight Howard is a Laker. This should undoubtedly change the landscape of the NBA for years to come. Not only do the Lakers have a legitimate shot at a title right now, with a core lead by Kobe Bryant, Howard, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol, but they have their dominant force of the future. Kobe is getting old, and nobody knows how much longer he’s going to be able to play at the level that we’re accustomed to seeing. When he does retire sometime in the next five years, the Lakers will be Dwight’s team, provided he signs an extension at the end of this season. Fortunately for us Celtics fans over here in Boston, the acquisition of Howard by L.A. doesn’t really mean that much. The C’s and Lakers meet twice a year in games that are, for the most part, unimportant. Obviously, the deal becomes huge if the Celtics and Lakers are to meet in the NBA Finals again, but as far as making a deep playoff run (depending on how you define that), the C’s are going to be entirely unaffected by the Lakers.
What makes this deal a killer for the Celtics is the acquisition of Andrew Bynum by the Philadelphia 76ers. Bynum has given the C’s problems throughout his career, essentially ending Boston’s title hopes in 2010. Everybody knows that the Celtics glaring weakness is rebounding, and with Bynum now playing inside the Atlantic Division, it could be exposed all season long. Boston certainly has more depth than Philly, which means they should be able to win the division (although that won’t be easy with the new and improved Nets and Knicks battling for a division title). But when you talk about a seven game series against the Sixers with Bynum on the block, their path to the Eastern Conference Finals just got much tougher. Does Bynum put the Sixers over the top? It’s tough to say, but you would have to think that a team that came within one game of eliminating the Celtics last season likes their chances in 2012-13. Bynum averaged 15.5 rebounds and 18 points in two games last season against the Celtics. In other words, the C’s had no answer for him.
But the Celtics Aren’t going to be the only team in the Atlantic that is affected by the trade, in fact, it could impact the entire Atlantic Division more than any other involved. The Knicks are sure to improve on last year’s second place finish, and the addition of Joe Johnson makes the Nets a darkhorse in the division. What you have now is a division in which at least three of the five teams (possibly a fourth) has a legitimate shot at finishing at the top. In essence, the Howard deal means this: The Atlantic Division is now the most competitive division on the NBA.