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In case you haven’t already heard, Dwight Howard spoke to NBA.com correspondent, Scott Howard-Cooper, on Monday concerning his feelings for his current Orlando Magic team and his prospects as a free-agent after the 2011-2012 NBA season:
“I want to win a championship. I think the owners have to really know that. That's been my goal and my mission since I've been in the NBA -- to win a championship. I don't have side goals or agendas. My main goal is to win a championship. I want to have 14 other guys who feel the same way. Sometimes guys are there whole-heartedly and then sometimes I've had teammates allow people getting in their ears and things like that effect the way that they play and approach the game. I just told them, 'We've got to have guys who are going to play hard 48 minutes and who are going to battle the other team, who are going to fight night in and night out for a championship’…There's no other place I'd rather be besides Orlando. At the end of the day, as far as what I want to accomplish as a basketball player, to be one of the greats, you have to win championships. That's how I see it. I want to do that in Orlando, and hopefully we can get it done.... Everybody's asking me from the beginning of the season until today where am I playing in a year? Am I getting traded? I have no clue. As of right now, I want to be in Orlando.”
During this conversation with NBA.com, Dwight confirmed that he will become a free-agent after next season. However, anything short of a championship would cause him to reconsider his future with the Magic. I can’t help but come away feeling that Dwight Howard is past the disgruntled stage, not only because he is clearly upset with the attitude of his teammates, but the odds are stacked against the Orlando Magic front-office when it comes to improving upon last year’s team.
Unlike some superstars of the past who have left their original teams with a relatively sour taste left in their mouths, a la [Lebron] Prince James and Shaquille O’Neal, it appears that Dwight Howard truly loves Orlando and wants to give the Magic front-office every opportunity to show him that they are truly committed to him and his desire to win a championship. The general manager of the Orlando Magic, Otis Smith, has arguably the toughest job in basketball as he knows that in order to keep his centerpiece he must rid the team of at least one of the two god-awful contracts that are weighing his team down. These two contracts belong to Gilbert Arenas (owed 62.4 million dollars over the next 3 years) and Hedo Turkoglu (owed 44 million dollars over the next 4 years) respectively. These two players are probably in the Top 5 in the league in the “worst contracts” category, both commanding zero trade value. The only way Otis Smith will be able to trade either of these players is if he takes on another bad contract, “Not again!” says Dwight Howard, or package them with one of their plethora of cheaper assets that do actually have some trade value. Unfortunately, in this case, “plethora of assets” means more like one, or two players: perhaps J.J. Redick and Brandon, both of whom are not exactly “highly coveted” by other teams. The only way the Magic can transform their team into a contender is if Arenas returns to his 06’ form (28.4 PPG and 6 AST), and/or Turkoglu plays like he did the year he won the league’s most improved player award (19.5 PPG, 5 AST, 5.7 RPG). If either of these things happens, their respective trade values would rise considerably, giving Otis Smith some semblance of hope in acquiring a second star, or a championship-caliber supporting-cast. But come on, let’s be real here. The chances of either of those things happening are slim to none. So let’s assume the Magic regress from last year’s team that was eliminated in the 1st Round and assume that Otis Smith is forced to trade the best center in the league before he leaves for nothing.
According to the NBA rumor mill, which is now beginning to gain steam in these days following the NBA Finals, Dwight wants to be in a big-market and well, he wants to be an recogninzed as one of the all-time greats. The most important thing is that he is looking for is that he wants to be on a winning team (who doesn’t?). I don’t think that Dwight will seek as much control over the trade talks as Melo’ did over this past season, since Dwight will have a bit more empathy for the team he is leaving behind than maybe Melo’, or Lebron did. That is of course pure speculation, but judging from what I know of him as a person, his high-character will make the transition for the Magic much less tumultuous than that of Cleveland (I’m not going to mention Denver because they came out just fine). Anyway, these are the teams that I believe have either no chance, or no interest in acquiring Dwight:
· Milwaukee Bucks – ehhh, sorry…Not enough national appeal
· Philadelphia 76ers – I thought about them for a second, but they would have to give up all of the players that would intrigue Dwight to play there, just to get him.
· Toronto Raptors – Canada, seriously?
· Cleveland Cavaliers – too soon
· Detroit Pistons – mediocre team in an undesirable area
· Indiana Pacers – Midwest and not exactly a prime destination for superstars on the move. They definitely have the assets though.
· Atlanta Hawks – Did the writing version of a “double-take” on this one. Dwight is from Atlanta and the Hawks have the assets to get him, but trading him in the division seems out of the realm of possibility for the Magic.
· Charlotte Bobcats – If they could put MJ in any trade proposal, then maybe.
· Miami Heat – Sorry Jeff Van Gundy, Pat Riley is going to keep this party going.
· Washington Wizards – They have a long way to go before they make the playoffs and on a less important note, their trade assets are lacking.
· Phoenix Suns – This definitely isn’t because of the location, more as a result of their aging roster. Alright, I’ll just say it. Nash is getting old.
· Sacramento Kings – Maloofs.
· Memphis Grizzlies – Memphis isn’t exactly the kind of market I believe he is looking for; they don’t need him anyway.
· New Orleans Hornets – They already have their own superstar to worry about.
· San Antonio Spurs – No concrete reason. I just can’t see it and I haven’t heard any mention of them as potential suitors.
· Denver Nuggets – They seem content with the young talent they have in place.
· Portland Trailblazers – They’ll be busy trying to get Chris Paul; they already have enough quality bigs.
· Utah Jazz – Mormons….
· Minnesota Timberwolves – KAAAHHHHNN!!
I leave Otis Smith with nine teams that he can negotiate a trade with. Of course these teams have their respective pros and cons in terms of what they have to offer: market, readiness to win, and trade assets. However, only one team can win the Dwight Howard contest and acquire the rights to my favorite player in the league (what an honor!). This contest will have tiers. Once a team’s GM gets past a tier, he finds himself one step closer to the end of the rainbow.
Tier 1: Cool Idea Bro, but Really?
Boston Celtics: They will have a better chance if Dwight is to become a free-agent as they will only have Rondo and Paul Pierce under contract after this upcoming season. Any trade package from Boston’s end would have to involve Rondo. Without Rondo in the 2012-2013 season, what would be the point of Dwight even leaving Orlando in the first place? One could argue that Jeff Green (assuming he will be re-signed this summer) could be packaged with Ray Allen and a couple of 1st Round-Picks, but I don’t think the value of this trade package is up to snuff with what other teams have to offer. Sorry Celtics fans, you’ll have to find your cornerstone of the future somewhere else. And no, Rondo is not a superstar and never will be unless he develops his jump-shot and free-throw stroke.
Los Angeles Clippers: Let’s start with the Clippers having one of the worst, if not the worst owner in basketball. His name is Donald Sterling and he just lost a $13 million lawsuit to the former general manager and coach of the Clippers, Mike Dunleavy, as a result of his refusal to pay off the remainder of his contract. This is just one of many embarrassing stories, ranging from claims of racism to sexual harassment, that litter his resume as an NBA owner. However, the Clippers have a multitude of trade chips that would command some serious consideration. Al-Farouq Aminu, Eric Bledsoe, Deandre Jordan, and maybe even Eric Gordon would be involved in trade talks. A Dwight Howard-Blake Griffin duo would rival any front-court combination in history. However, with the Clippers forever in the shadow of the Lakers and their winning owner, I don’t believe that Dwight would let this trade happen. Sterling is in some ways the antithesis to the philanthropist that is Dwight Howard.
New York Knicks: It pains me to say this, but I don’t think they have enough assets to put forth in a trade for Dwight Howard. Uhhh…well I got that off my chest. Their projected trade package would have to be Chauncey Billups, Toney Douglas, Landry Fields, and whatever 1st round picks they have left. Billups only has 3-4 more serviceable years left, while Fields and Douglas will be decent starters at the absolute best. The Knicks have the biggest market, the best arena in the world (MSG), and an owner willing to spend money, but their best bet at getting Dwight will come if he becomes a free-agent. I will all, but guarantee that he will be a Knick if he becomes a free-agent, but I seriously doubt he makes it that far. I completely understand the Knick’s logic when they decided to pick up Billups’ option as I believe he can be used to fetch a lesser known player. A trade for Dwight Howard would have to involve a budding star, or a player with serious star potential and the Knicks just don’t have that to offer.
Tier 2: It’s Not You…It’s Me.
Houston Rockets: The Houston Rockets have been hovering on the brink of making the playoffs and being a lottery team over the last few years. This happened in large part because of Yao’s annual injury that crushes their hopes of contending in the stacked Western Conference. The general manager of the Rockets, Daryl Morey, has been stockpiling assets for a trade involving a player of Dwight Howard’s caliber. Morey’s strategy of stockpiling young, cheap talent has been obvious since the pieces he acquires rarely fit together. For example, he has accumulated a glut of power-forwards that don’t really complement each other at all: Patrick Patterson, Luis Scola, and Jordan Hill. Not only has this collection of young talent bought Morey and the Rockets trade flexibility, but they will have room to sign players in free-agency even if Dwight were already on the team. Houston also has the “no income-tax” thing going for them, so that’s a plus. The reason I question Houston’s viability as a serious contender for Dwight Howard again comes when I try to see what will be left after a trade with the Magic. I believe that a potential package from the Rockets would be Kevin Martin, Patrick Patterson, Chase Budinger, and maybe Terrence Williams. Now if I was Morey and I knew that a guy like Chris Paul, or Deron Williams was going to be a free-agent, then I do the deal in a heartbeat (since they would have a serious chance at signing either of them). I would also do the deal if the Rockets really hit a homerun in this year’s draft with a guy like Jordan Hamilton, or Chris Singleton. I just think that if neither of those two scenarios happens, the Rockets will still be a few years from contending for a title, which is time that Dwight does not want to waste.
Chicago Bulls: The Bulls got too close to getting to the Finals to break their chemistry so soon. They have a laundry list of valuable assets that I’m sure Otis Smith would love to have in Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Omer Asik, Luol Deng, and whoever they draft with their two first round picks in the upcoming draft. The weaknesses of the Bulls this year were readily apparent this year, and none of them involved a lack of a defensive presence in the frontcourt. Joakim Noah is arguably the second-best center in basketball, so why trade him and other assets for a moderate upgrade at a place of strength? Don’t get me wrong, a Rose-Howard combination would be devastating, but it just doesn’t make sense to me. The reason I have the Bulls in this tier is because if they do decide that they want him, they can have him. I just don’t believe that they actually pull the trigger in the end.
Los Angeles Lakers: This will probably surprise a lot of people as most think that Dwight has all, but gotten traded to the Lakers already (or at least Magic Johnson wishes that were so). However, the Lakers are in a really weird situation with their humongous contracts and outspoken owner, whose son (who will succeed his father as the owner of the Lakers) recently declared that Andrew Bynum was “untouchable”. You thought Dwyane Wade and Lebron James were similar? Well you can take this to the bank, Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum cannot and will not play together, ever. Now that we have that out of the way, I think we can agree that Bynum would be a part of any trade package for the services of Dwight. If this trade would have happened two years ago: Bynum and Odom straight up for Dwight, I would say it is a done deal. However, Bynum has developed a reputation for being injury-prone and that scares a lot of general managers, especially when it is concerning a big man. The seemingly logical thing to do is eliminate Bynum from the trade all-together and replace him with Pau Gasol, which I think would realistically work as long as some extra salaries came from Orlando along with Dwight, but the goal here is to get rid of Andrew Bynum. That leaves us with a trade involving Pau, Bynum, Howard, and probably Gilbert Arenas, which would be an absolute turnoff for the Lakers front-office (probably Magic too). The Lakers are already way over the salary cap; I doubt they would be willing to take on a massive contract like that of Gilbert Arenas, or Hedo Turkoglu for that matter. For the sake of Laker fans, let’s say this trade goes through. Now you’re left with an aging Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom, Dwight of course, and a whole lot of scrubs. Does that team beat the Miami Heat, or even the Oklahoma City Thunder? The only way the Lakers get Dwight is through a multi-team trade, but their chances would still questionable.
Tier 3: Duhhh….Winning!
Golden State Warriors: “Mamma, there goes that man!” The Warriors will be serious contenders for Dwight Howard this year. Let me break it down for you. The Warriors now have an owner in Joe Lacob that reminds me a lot of Mark Cuban, who is the owner of the 2011 NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks by the way. Lacob has assembled an all-star team of front-office suits with the legendary Jerry West advising an already experienced general manager in Larry Riley. Lacob has also made what I believe to be the best head coaching hire so far this offseason in the form of Mark Jackson/Mike Malone. The future prospects for the Golden State Warriors look to be very bright as long as Lacob doesn’t butt in to the point that it brings the real authority of the front-office suits into question. The most intriguing aspect of the Warriors is their young talent and desirable contracts. I think Stephen Curry is going to have a breakout year next year; he’s going to shock the world everyone. I’m thinking along the lines of 22 PPG and 7 AST per game next year. Their best trade package would involve Curry of course, but I think they have the assets to acquire Dwight even without involving Curry in the deal. I believe that Monta Ellis, Ekpe Udoh, and whoever they draft in the upcoming draft will be more than enough to get Dwight. A combination of Stephen Curry, David Lee, and Dwight Howard would be deadly on the offensive end. They may be lacking on the defensive end, but this trio would make the Warriors legitimate title contenders from the get-go. They would all complement each other too perfectly not to succeed. The Warriors are a serious dark-horse that I haven’t heard anyone talk about. Just don’t be surprised if you hear about the Warriors being in discussion with Otis Smith over a potential deal because you already read it here.
Dallas Mavericks: “I heard they do things big in Dallas, and if we do things big, than that means not 1, 2, 3, 4, 5!” joked Tyson Chandler, when asked about what the future holds, during the championship celebration in Dallas. Dirk has a three, or four years left in his prime and it does not sound so ridiculous to think that they might win the championship next year as well with the team in place. However, they are aging and I think it would be in their best interest to build for the future, so that they don’t experience some extended period of mediocrity. The Mavs have some decent young talent in Rodrigue Beaubois, Corey Brewer, and Dominique Jones (all guards). Their top priority this offseason is to retain Tyson Chandler, one of the top defensive centers in the NBA. However, this man was the second overall pick in 2001 and has been very underwhelming for every year of his career except for the outlier that was last year, and especially these recent playoffs. To bet on Tyson Chandler to be the 2010-2011 Tyson Chandler is a risk, so to package some of the integral parts of this recent championship to get perhaps THE integral part of any future championship teams would be much less of a risk. Dwight is as much of a sure thing as anyone that the Mavericks could acquire in free-agency, or trade.. Even if he loses all of the offensive developments that he has made over the last year, you still get the most dominant big man since Shaquille O’Neal and a perennial defensive player of the year. Dwight is entering his prime and Dirk still has the last half of his prime to play through. This combination would be even more lethal than any Chandler-Nowitzki duo. If I’m Mark Cuban, I package Tyson Chandler, Roddy Beaubois, Brendan Haywood (who could go to another team in a three-way deal), Corey Brewer, and a first round pick for Dwight. If this happens, the Lakers and Spurs could both kiss their hopes of getting to the Western Conference Finals goodbye as the West will then run through Memphis, Oklahoma City, and Dallas. Dallas fans have the infamous Mark Cuban and the “no income-tax” perk going for them, so maybe Chandler’s prediction isn’t so preposterous.
New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets: The Nets are the trendy pick by most critics as they have the talent to offer in Brook Lopez and a move to Brooklyn to sell. Mikhail Prokhorov, who probably makes more in one year than the whole of the NBA, has big plans for his big American investment. Bringing star power to New Jersey/Brooklyn has been the goal over the last two years and I believe that they made serious gains with the addition of Deron Williams. I don’t see the Nets as much more than a sexy pick at this point. The Nets think that Deron Williams has all, but signed his extension, but judging from reports that he was in the Mavericks locker-room after their Finals clinching win, I wouldn’t say the retention of Deron Williams is a done deal. The Nets have zero talent that would be left over if after a Dwight Howard trade, outside of Deron of course. The Nets really gave up a lot in the Deron Williams trade and I think that that will come back to bite them in the end. I understand their philosophy of creating cap-space to provide flexibility for themselves during their transition to Brooklyn, but they are relying on the unknown too much. If the appeal of being in Brooklyn and working with Jay-Z really meant all that much, then one of Lebron, Melo’, or Amar’e would be a Net at this point. A Deron-Dwight duo would be pretty cool going into the 2012-2013 season, but I just don’t see it happening. We will see.
Dwight Howard has emerged from the talks concerning the uncertainty of his future as a much more respectable and loyal superstar than what we as fans have grown to be used to. At least he informed his employer of his future plans, giving them time to plan for the future if he does in fact leave the team. Dwight Howard has a lot of respect and love for the Orlando Magic and it appears like he desperately wants to stay with the team. Isn’t that what we were expecting from Lebron last summer? We wanted a guy that at least expressed empathy and love for not only his first team, but for the fans that watched him play since childhood. Lebron and Melo’ set the bar low when it comes to paying respect their respective employers. Dwight is bringing that bar back up to where it should be, and resetting the standard for the NBA players. Unfortunately for Otis Smith, too many things have to go right for him to even have a shot at keeping his superstar.
Let the drama begin.