After days of speculation, false rumors, “advanced talks”, and near-consummated transactions, the Orlando Magic began the 2011-2012 season by serving notice to the league that Dwight Howard would no longer be available for trade. Of course, all this really meant was that suitors needed to come to the table with far better offers than Joe Barry Carroll and a bunch of scrubs. It has become evident to both the Magic, and teams around the league, that Dwight Howard will leave Orlando at the end of this season after declining a long-term extension, thereby placing the Magic in the unenviable position of having to move their franchise player prior to the trade deadline.
Of course, Dwight has certainly been doing his part to expedite the process, offering up his share of uninspired efforts to begin the season, and exhibiting a body language that rivals only my own when I’m out shopping with my wife. In parallel, Howard’s agent, Dan Fegan, has actively attempted to broker discussions with the three teams that are at the top of Howard’s list: the New Jersey Nets, Los Angeles Lakers, and Dallas Mavericks.
However, if Howard truly wants out, his best chance of accelerating a trade will be to provide the Magic with a win/win scenario for all parties involved. This would entail:
a.) Dwight Howard going to a team that resides within a large market, can provide multiple endorsement opportunities, and has a supporting cast that not only offers him an immediate chance to win, but also provides him with multiple opportunities to win in the future.
b.) The Orlando Magic receiving a combination of players that not only enable them to them to build for the future while retaining salary cap flexibility, but also enables them to remain competitive in the present.
c.) Howard’s new team being able to acquire the league’s best center without gutting the core of their team, and maintaining enough of a supporting cast to become both an instant and long-term title contender.
If we accept these criteria to be realistic, then only one questions remains: Why on earth isn’t Dwight Howard pushing for a trade to the Chicago Bulls?
As it stands today, Howard’s first choice is reportedly to go to the New Jersey Nets to play alongside All-Star point guard Deron Williams. The Nets are offering a package that includes Brook Lopez and multiple first round draft picks. The Nets will also be moving into a new state-of-the art facility in Brooklyn next season, and will have a clean slate of salary cap space beginning in the summer of 2013, thereby enabling them to sign a 3rd max (or close to max ) player and forming their own ‘Big Three’. The Nets are owned by Mikhail Prokhorov – a billionaire, international mogul, and willing spender who can offer Howard the benefits of playing in New York, which boasts international fame, endless publicity, numerous endorsements, a 3:1 female-to-male ratio, and a 1:1 neurotic female-to-psychiatrist ratio….. trust me, I learned the hard way.
However, Howard has said that he wants to win now, and outside of Deron Williams, the Nets have very little to offer in the area of a supporting cast for the next 2 years. The Nets have also historically lacked a winning culture, having never won a NBA championship (sorry, the ABA doesn’t count) and having gotten past the second round of the NBA playoffs more than twice. Would Howard really be willing to wait nearly 2 years to rebuild, while banking his future on a franchise that has had a questionable commitment to winning? Moreover, why would Orlando be willing to take on a potentially injury-prone center (given the complications of stress fractures), and a series of draft picks that will likely be on the low end as long as Williams and Howard are still playing?
Howard’s second choice is the Los Angeles Lakers who are reportedly mulling an unofficial offer of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. The Lakers are the league’s most successful and celebrated franchise, having demonstrated a commitment towards winning, and a track record of eventually rewarding every one of their dominant centers with a championship ring (Shaquille O’Neal, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, George Mikan). The Lakers can also offer Howard the opportunity to play in a major market alongside one of the greatest players to ever play the game in Kobe Bryant, movie-roles, 65 degree winters, and a 500:1 vapid/shallow female-to-well adjusted female ratio….. trust me, I learned the hard way.
The problem is that the Lakers can only offer Howard temporary success. Kobe Bryant will be closer to 34 once the playoffs start and is on the downside of his career. Moreover, trading both Bynum and Gasol would leave the Lakers extremely talent-deficient, and provide very little flexibility for improvement in the future given the salary cap restrictions under the new CBA, and especially if they have to take on Hedo Turkoglu’s salary as well. Lastly, does Howard really want to follow in the foot steps of his TNT adversary, Shaquille O’Neal, who has continually criticized him for his lack of originality? And given Bynum’s recent resurgence, are the Lakers even willing to trade for Dwight Howard? We certainly know that Pau Gasol alone is not going to be enough to pry Howard away from the Magic, so would the Lakers really be willing to give up both players?
For Orlando, Andrew Bynum gives them the opportunity to acquire a franchise level talent, and second best Center in the league. But would Orlando want to bank their future on Bynum’s balky knees? After all, he has had 3 injuries in the past 4 years and only been able to play an average of 51 games per season.
Last comes the Dallas Mavericks who are able to offer, well…. nothing. I wrote about this in an earlier article, but the Mavs are gearing toward the summer of 2012, which by no coincidence will be their best chance for acquiring not only Dwight Howard, but Deron Williams as well. However, in order for this to happen, Howard will need to make a conscious decision to refrain from signing a long-term extension, regardless of whichever team he is on, and become an unrestricted free agent. And based upon what we saw with the Miami Big Three in 2010, are we really ready to rule any conspiracy theories out?
If not, the Chicago Bulls can offer the best “win/win” package for all parties involved. The Bulls can offer an All-Star caliber center in Joakim Noah (27 years old) who is a double-double guy when healthy, brings a wealth of hustle and intangibles to the table, and is a great team player; Taj Gibson (26 years old) who is a solid double-double guy and already one of the best defensive power forwards in the game; and Luol Deng (26 years old), an All-Star Caliber player who can score 18-20 per game, and has become one of the best defensive small forwards in the game. Most importantly, the Bulls can offer the Orlando Magic the Charlotte Bobcats’ protected number one pick in 2012, which given the depth of the 2012 draft, has the potential to result in a promising young player. This pick becomes more and more valuable as the years go by; Lottery protected in 2012 , top-12 protected in 2013, top-10 protected in 2014, top-8 protected in 2015, and unprotected in 2016. After all, are the Bobcats really going anywhere? The end result is that the Bulls can offer Orlando a better short-term package than the Nets, and a better long-term package than the Lakers, while enabling Orlando to remain competitive, retain cap space, and build towards the future.
If you are Orlando, which package would you prefer?:
Package #1: Brooks Lopez + multiple low first round draft picks (likely 20-30 range)
Package #2: Andrew Bynum + Pau Gasol (32 years old)
Package #3: Joakim Noah + Luol Deng + Taj Gibson + High Lottery Pick
The Bulls can offer Dwight Howard (who really holds all of the cards in this game) a better short-term scenario than the Nets and Lakers, and a better long-term scenario than the Lakers. With the Bulls, Howard would get multiple title shots over the next 5-7 years while playing alongside Derrick Rose – the reigning MVP, and one of the 10 best players in the NBA. And while the Bulls will initially sport a lineup of Rose/Hamilton/Howard/Boozer/Asik they will be able to add a significant piece(s) through free agency by amnestying Carlos Boozer (which will happen at some point).
So why won’t Dwight put the Bulls at the top of his list?
Howard has mentioned that he would like to go to a warm weather city, but is Chicago really that much colder than New York? The average low during winter months in Chicago is 22.5 degrees. The average low during winter months in New York is 30.5 degrees. Moreover, Howard would spend 50% of his time traveling during the NBA season anyway. Would Dwight really turn down his best chance at winning for a mere 8 degrees?
There are also reports that because Dan Fegan assisted in negotiating Joakim Noah’s contract with the Bulls, Fegan would be resistant to pushing a trade that included his client? However, we all know that sports agents are ruthless and soulless individuals who force athletes to play injured beyond their prime, date single moms, get attached their nerdy kids, and generate cheesy movie lines that have any unending cable TV shelf-life, right? These guys can do anything, right? If so, why can’t Fegan sell Noah on the lack of state taxes in Florida, proximity to his Alma Matter, and the prospects of playing for the venerable Stan Van Gundy? Ehhh, ok…. probably not, but as I mentioned before, Howard, not Fegan, holds all of the cards, and if he wants to make this deal happen, he can make it happen.
A Dwight Howard To Chicago Bulls Trade makes sense.