Mitch Kupchak has been waiting all summer. He's been patiently marking his time, waiting for Dwight Howard to come available at the right price. Now, according to "multiple sources" cited by ESPN, it's actually happening. Barring a dramatic and unforeseen turn of events, on Friday morning the Orlando Magic will trade Howard to the Lakers, who will part with Andrew Bynum but not, crucially, Pau Gasol. That's the deal Kupchak has been gunning for all along, and if you didn't think he could pull it off you haven't been paying attention.
The trade is a four-teamer, with the Nuggets and 76ers chipping in to make it all work. Philly will end up with Bynum and send Andre Iguodala to the Nugs. The Sixers will also get Jason Richardson from Orlando, while the Magic come away with the tanking-friendly package of Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington, Nikola Vucevic and picks. Throughout the day Thursday reports conflicted about whether Gasol would be moved in the deal, but ESPN's Marc Stein is reporting that the version getting phoned into league offices on Friday does not include Pau.
Assuming this unfolds as expected, Kupchak has orchestrated a virtuoso offseason comparable to Jerry West's legendary summer of '96. With the additions of Howard and Steve Nash, not to mention Antawn Jamison and Jordan Hill, Kupchak transformed the Lakers in a span of about five weeks. What had been an aging team obviously in its twilight is now the favorite to win the Western Conference and a good bet to bring home the franchise's 17th championship banner. Rarely in league history has a team boasted the star-level talent the Lakers will deploy next season.
Howard's impact will be greatest at the defensive end of the floor. Bynum had occasional stretches of defensive dominance but Dwight is more consistently influential at that end. His Orlando teams have been at or near the top of the league's defensive tables almost every year of his career, and there's no reason to think he can't make the Lakers' D elite. On offense, Dwight's existence will be so, so much easier than it was in Orlando. Nash and Pau, two of the best passers ever at their positions, will feed him as many lobs as he can handle. Double-teams will be much less frequent. Pick-and-roll dunks will be very frequent.
Nothing, of course, is guaranteed. Dwight's back, which underwent surgery in April, will be an ongoing risk, as will the health of Nash and that of the roster's many other thirtysomethings. Outside shooting remains a real concern even with Nash on board. There's not yet a credible back-up to Kobe Bryant at shooting guard. And somehow Mike Brown has to make this all come together. Integrating Nash, when Kobe has never played with a real point guard, was going to be challenge enough. Dwight's arrival raises the Lakers' ceiling but adds yet another layer of complexity.
Kupchak, meanwhile, is in line for deification. In the face of a new CBA designed to keep big-market teams from stockpiling superstars, he added Nash and Howard at minimal cost. On his watch the Lakers opened up two championship windows: first with the Gasol trade in 2008, and then after that edition of the Lake Show ran its course, he's set the stage for another run of title contention by adding an MVP-caliber big man.
The new season can't start soon enough.