SI Lakers Now This Is Going To Be Fun

After the Los Angeles Lakers’ changes this week, removing executive vice-president of basketball operations Jim Buss and general manager Mitch Kupchak in favor of Magic Johnson, it’s worth looking back at when the Buss and Kupchak duo were widely praised in 2012 for landing Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. That led to the infamous-in-retrospect Sports Illustrated cover above, and to the Lee Jenkins story it featured, titled “Is This the Face of a Bad Guy?” The story was mostly about Howard, but it had some interesting thoughts on how the Lakers’ new-look lineup would work and how Howard would be their long-term answer:

Howard lives in Los Angeles full time now, the centerpiece of what could be the most decorated starting lineup ever, one that includes the best player of his era, the best point guard, the best big man and the most skilled 7-footer. The Lakers evoke obvious comparisons with the Heat, but L.A.’s superstars should adjust to each other more easily than Miami’s because their defining individual talents do not overlap: Steve Nash is the passer, Kobe Bryant the scorer, Pau Gasol the playmaker, Howard the finisher and rim protector. Metta World Peace is sort of like the bouncer. “The pieces just fit,” Bryant says.

…Four Lakers starters are 32 or older—including Nash, who is 38—so unlike the Heat they harbor no delusions of becoming a dynasty. They are trying to pick off another championship while grooming Howard to lead the organization forward. He is both attraction and apprentice.

…Starting in early July, L.A. acquired Nash and Howard in a span of 35 days, surrendering nothing but draft picks, spare parts and center Andrew Bynum. The summer of 2012 will take its place in franchise history alongside the summer of 1996, when the Lakers landed Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal—unless Howard declines to re-sign with the club after he becomes a free agent on July 1, 2013, forfeiting approximately $25 million, according to the new collective bargaining agreement. “We don’t know what he’s going to do,” Kupchak says. “We have no idea. Our feeling all along was, Let’s just get him here, with Kobe and Steve and Pau, and we’ll take our chances.”

SI’s NBA preview in that issue also was high on the Lakers, projecting them to finish second in the West:

The Lakers’ hopes of winning their third title in five seasons depend on two new stars a dozen years apart. They need 38-year-old Steve Nash to create easy baskets and revamp their half-court offense, providing penetration and better three-point production to a team that suffered in both areas. (Los Angeles was 23rd in threes made and 26th in three-point shooting.) More important, Nash will have to find a way to integrate Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol while keeping everyone happy—and keeping himself healthy amid so many demands.

The 26-year-old Howard, who has won three Defensive Player of the Year awards, can electrify Staples Center with blocked shots, outlet passes to Nash and dunks in transition. After two lousy years in Orlando of mixed messages and ambivalent motivations, he can dramatically reinvent himself by contributing to a championship. But will Howard see the importance of that?

Many on Twitter were even less restrained, predicting an instant championship when news of the Howard trade first broke in August 2012:

Here is some more Lakers praise:

Turner Sports’ Charles Barkley was high on the Lakers too:

As were ESPN’s Dan Le Batard and Michael Wilbon:

Other NBA scouts liked the Lakers’ looks too:

Lots figured the NBA would come down to them and the Big Three of the Heat:

And many predicted dynasty status:

The likes of Mike Greenberg, Colin Cowherd, and  Stephen A. Smith weighed in:

Andy Roddick loved the move:

And one guy in particular, Shane Young, got very declarative about this team:

Even the players were pretty confident:

The part that perhaps looks funniest in retrospect are all the people praising EVP Buss and GM Kupchak:

Hurt by Nash and Bryant getting injured and Howard never quite fitting in, Los Angeles went 45-37 in 2012-13, earned a seventh seed in the West on the final day of the season, and lost to the Spurs in the first round (without the injured Bryant). Howard signed with the Rockets that offseason, while Nash stuck around while battling injuries for two further years, but retired in 2015. The Lakers went 27-55, 21-61 and 17-65 after 2012-13, and they were 19-39 and second-last in the West as of Wednesday. So this move really wasn’t all that fun, except for fans of other teams.

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz is a staff writer for Awful Announcing.