Whattya mean the Lakers traded for Dwight Howard? Didn't they just sign Steve Nash, too?

Do the math. That's 1—Howard, 2—Nash, 3—Kobe Bryant, 4—Pau Gasol and 5—Metta World Peace.

This is a fair fight?

If you took the best players in the Utah Jazz's thirtysomething-year history and put them on the court in their prime you wouldn't beat that Laker team.

First, we had The Decision. Now we have The Indecision. After months — make that years — of whining and vacillation about moving on to another team, Howard got his way and got on his way, working a trade to, surprise!, the L.A. Lakers. Not that it was much of a hassle — all it involved were four teams, 12 players and five draft picks, preceded by months of speculation and negotiation.

A month earlier, the Lakers signed Nash, the two-time league MVP and arguably the best point guard in the league since John Stockton went home.

Kobe Bryant said the Lakers are "locked and loaded to bring back the title."

Great! Memo to NBA: Except for Miami, the rest of you can stay home.

Orlando general manager Rob Hennigan said it's a step back for the Magic. No, it's a step off a cliff, a freefall, and not just for the Magic, but the entire NBA. The superstar migration to form the superpower, large-market alliances continues.

Maybe you're wondering what that lockout was all about.

There is no way to put a good spin on this. The NBA is one messed up league. Commissioner David Stern and the owners talk about wanting competitive balance, like the NFL, but it's only a dream. More than half of the league's 65 championships have been won by two teams (Lakers and Celtics). Thirty-nine of the league's 65 championship finals have included one or both the Lakers and Celtics. The Lakers have appeared in seven of the last 13 NBA Finals. Twelve teams have never won a championship and seven have never been to the NBA Finals.

The National Football League it's not. The Green Bay Packers could never survive in the NBA. This is a large-market league made more so by the recent superstar alliances. Boston got things rolling by joining up Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce (two NBA Finals, one championship). Then LeBron James colluded with Chris Bosh to join Dwyane Wade in Miami (two NBA Finals, one championship). The Knicks took Denver's Carmelo Anthony and Phoenix's Amare Stoudemire, hoping to add Chris Paul, Deron Williams or Tony Parker to the mix to produce their own Big Three (they're still working on it). Now the Lakers have one-upped everyone. They don't have the Big Three — they've got the Big Four and a Half (Artest). As one observer noted, what have things come to when Gasol is only the fourth best player on a team?

The Lakers use their big-market money and allure to attract one generation of great players after another, and no one can blame. The NBA has facilitated the rich teams, allowing them to stack talent. Down the road, the new collective bargaining agreement supposedly will apply severe penalties to such teams, but until then the Lakers can use their TV contract alone to pay the league taxes.

So the rich get richer, again. The longest the Lakers have ever gone between championship appearances is seven years, and why not? Over the years they've managed to obtain, from other teams, Shaquille O'Neal, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and now Howard and Nash.

Go figure. Last winter the Lakers tried to trade for Chris Paul, hoping that would lure Howard to their team, but it was vetoed by Commissioner David Stern in the name of competitive balance. Months later, the Lakers pulled off essentially the same deal, landing Nash and then Howard. An ESPN headline said it all: "Another superstar joins a superteam."

In case you missed it, last month the defending champion Miami Heat signed Allen and Rashard Lewis.

There are two superpowers — the Lakers and Heat — and then there is a small group of teams on the next tier — Chicago, San Antonio, Oklahoma City — and then, who cares?

Small-market teams that have attempted to patiently build competitive teams have been pilfered by the big-market teams — the Jazz losing Kyle Korver, Deron Williams, Wes Mathews; the Nuggets losing Anthony; the Cavaliers losing James; the Raptors losing Bosh; and on and on it goes.

The harsh reality is the vast majority of NBA teams have no shot at a title; they're farm teams and opponents for the real contenders.

email: drob@desnews.com