Chris Paul deal does not improve the Lakers, unless a Dwight Howard deal is next

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If the three-team trade between the Lakers, Hornets, and Rockets is finalized as expected when the league opens for business on Friday morning, L.A. will have sent Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom out of town in exchange for Chris Paul  — and possibly another piece to make the salaries match, like Emeka Okafor. In doing so, L.A. gets the league’s best pure point guard, but gives away two of its three key frontcourt players responsible for two championships and three trips to the NBA Finals.

As exciting as it is to add a player like Paul, whose competitive fire is matched only by that of Kobe Bryant, it’s a big risk to blow up the core of a team as successful as L.A.’s has been, and to go in an entirely new direction for the first time in four seasons.

In short, if the Lakers are done dealing, they just got worse.

The thing is, in all likelihood, the Lakers aren’t finished at all. By pulling off the deal for Paul without giving up Andrew Bynum, there’s still a shot for L.A. to land Dwight Howard in a trade involving the Lakers’ young big.

But we’re not there just yet, so let’s take this one at face value. The Lakers’ size was a key component in getting them to those three straight Finals from 2008-2010, so sending two of those guys packing is no small decision.

Gasol is to this day tagged as being soft by the uninformed, but he’s among the most skilled all-around big men the league has to offer. He scores and rebounds at an All-Star level, and commands a double-team from most teams in the post, where he’s just as effective finding the open man when the help comes as he is scoring the basketball.

Odom famously doesn’t bring his best game every single night, but he’s as versatile a player that the league has, and would most certainly be in the starting lineup for all but a handful of teams. With the Lakers, he came off the bench. That’s an incredible asset to have playing with the second unit, and isn’t something that should be understated.

Now, there’s no question that the Lakers desperately needed an upgrade at the point guard position. Derek Fisher as a starter might have been passable in the semi-triangle offense, one that seemed to end more often than the team would have liked in isolations for Kobe Bryant. But with a new head coach in Mike Brown installing a new offensive system, Fisher was not going to have the playmaking ability to run a more traditional offense. In that regard, the Lakers couldn’t have dreamed of doing any better than landing Chris Paul.

Once you get past the point guard position, however, it becomes evident that the subtraction of Gasol and Odom presents more problems than the addition of Paul solves. Who would the Lakers start at power forward? (And center too, for that matter, considering Bynum’s suspension for the first five games of the season.) Where’s the size and versatility off the bench? Who will be there to protect the rim and rebound?

If the answer ends up being Dwight Howard, then the trade for Chris Paul absolutely makes sense, and the Lakers will be the favorites to win yet another NBA title this season. But if L.A. is unable to flip Bynum to Orlando in a deal for Howard, then their championship window just got a little bit smaller.