Please just hear me out. Don’t be that guy who only reads the headline and then immediately jumps down to the comments section to leave something nasty like, “GO BACK TO BOSTON HATER!!!” (I’m not from Boston, by the way). The bottom line is that no matter how strongly you or I want to see Dwight Howard in a Lakers uniform has no bearing on whether or not it actually happens. So it really doesn’t matter what I think.
I can’t help but feel that every minute that passes without a deal makes the likelihood of a deal seem more and more unlikely. For starters, multi-team deals are always complicated. It’s difficult not to think that the Lakers and Cavs aren’t being used to help drive up the cost to Houston. But more than anything it’s because whether or not Dwight Howard comes to L.A. is not up to Dwight Howard, it’s not up to the Lakers, it’s not up to the Rockets, and it’s not up to the Cavaliers. It’s up to the Orlando Magic.
At some point, Magic GM Rob Hennigan will have to make a decision that will be based on what’s best for his franchise. The way things currently stand, the team that’s in the best situation to help the Magic going forward is the Houston Rockets. You can’t tell me otherwise. Whatever happens with Dwight after a potential trade is made has zero effect on the Magic. That’s someone else’s problem.
When ESPN The Magazine’s Ric Bucher reported Thursday that Dan Fegan, Dwight Howard’s agent, told him that Dwight will test free agency at the end of next season, many Lakers fans dismissed it. The reason being that Dwight can sign for much more money at the end of next season than if he were to sign an extension right now. While that’s absolutely true, you have to realize that the same applies to Andrew Bynum and Bynum is the only blue chip asset the Lakers currently have that anyone wants. Even though I totally agree with the reports saying the Lakers feel confident that Dwight will re-sign with them, the same can’t be said about Bynum in either Cleveland or Houston. Not when Dallas will have plenty of cap space again next summer. Same as Atlanta, where Bynum lives in the off-season. Bynum can tell Cleveland that he’d strongly consider signing an extension, but that won’t prevent him from entertaining offers elsewhere.
The next thing you’re probably going to tell me is that Houston is willing to trade for Bynum without an extension. Well, guess what? They’re also willing to trade for Dwight without an extension and I’m guessing they’d prefer Dwight to Bynum. The same package they’d be sending to Orlando to get Bynum is the same package they can send to Orlando to get Howard.
So if you’re scoring at home, that would place Bynum second to Hennigan on the list of most powerful people involved in determining if Howard will be a Laker next season.
Please don’t try and convince me that Cleveland’s best offer is better than Houston’s best offer. The rumored Cleveland trade would result in Anderson Varejao ending up on the Magic. Varejao has two guaranteed years left on his contract worth about $18 million plus a team option for 2014-15 that isn’t full guaranteed for $9.7 million. The only reason Varejao would be included in the deal would be for Orlando to take back at least one contract that runs longer than Varejao’s. But no matter how many bad contracts the Magic can shed, they would still have Varejao’s contract on their books.
Here are the Cavs current assets that would be of interest to the Magic:
First Round Picks:
- Their own first round picks in two non-consecutive drafts (picks that get worse if Cleveland adds Bynum)
- The better 2013 first round pick between the Lakers and Heat (a pick that gets worse if the Lakers add Howard)
- A conditional Kings pick (top-13 protected in 2013, top-12 protected in 2014, top-10 protected from 2015-17)
- Their own second round picks in any future draft (picks that get worse with the addition of Bynum)
- The Magic’s second round pick in 2013 (a pick that gets much better with the loss of Howard)
- The Magic’s second round pick in 2014 (a pick that gets much better with the loss of Howard)
- Tristan Thompson (4th overall pick in the 2011 Draft; 13.3 PER, 8 ppg on 44 percent shooting as a rookie)
- Tyler Zeller (the 17th pick in the 2012 Draft)
- Omri Casspi ($2.2 million expiring contract with qualifying offer for 2013-14 of $3.3M)
- Anderson Varejao (a sizable contract that can help Orlando dump worse contracts or be flipped again)
- Luke Walton ($6 million expiring contract)
- Daniel Gibson ($4.8 million expiring contract)
As far as the draft picks are concerned, the best case scenario we’re talking about is one or two of Cleveland’s own first round picks (which decrease in value as Cleveland inevitably gets better), the two Heat/Lakers picks likely to be between 25-30 (practically second round picks), the Kings pick in next year’s draft (the highest the pick can be in order for the Kings to convey it is 14th), and two Magic second round picks (which you can make the case are more valuable than the two Miami/Lakers picks because they might only be a few spots lower but won’t cost as much or as many years).
There’s definitely a good-to-great package that can be put together on Cleveland’s end, especially if they’re willing to take back at least two of Orlando’s bad contracts (or more if Orlando is willing to take back Varejao).
But compare what Cleveland can offer to what Houston can offer:
First Round Picks:
- Their own pick in next year’s draft (top-14 protected until 2016 otherwise it belongs to Atlanta)
- Their own “First Allowable Draft” pick that occurs after satisfying their obligation to Atlanta
- A conditional Raptors pick (top-3 and 15-30 protected in 2013, top-2 and 15-30 protected in 2014-15, top-1 and 15-30 protected in 2016-17, and unprotected in 2018)
- A conditional Mavericks pick (top-20 protected from 2013-17 and unprotected in 2018)
Second Round picks
- Their own 2013 second round pick (top-40 protected from 2013-15 and unprotected in 2016; otherwise it goes to Atlanta)
- The Knicks 2014 second round pick
- Their own 2014 second round pick (unless they satisfy their first-round obligation to Atlanta in 2013; then it goes to Milwaukee. Also top-40 protected from 2013-5, unprotected in 2016)
- Their own second round picks from 2015 and beyond
- Patrick Patterson (14th overall pick in the 2010 Draft)
- Donatas Motiejunas (20th overall pick in the 2010 Draft)
- Marcus Morris (14th overall pick in the 2011 Draft)
- Chandler Parsons (38th pick in the 2011 Draft; 13.3 PER, 9.5 ppg as a rookie on 45 percent shooting, 33 percent on 3s
- Jeremy Lamb (12th overall pick in the 2012 Draft)
- Royce White (16th overall pick in the 2012 Draft)
- Terrence Jones (18th overall pick in the 2012 Draft)
- Kevin Martin ($12.4 million expiring contract)
As far as the draft picks are concerned, the best case scenario would give the Magic two lottery picks in next year’s draft. That’s in addition to their own expected lottery pick. It’s entirely conceivable, with the roster moves they’ve made, for the Mavericks to finish with one of the league’s top-10 records — thus making their top-20 protected pick likely to be conveyed to Houston in next year’s draft. There isn’t any combination of picks that Cleveland can put together that’s more attractive than those three picks.
As far as the players that Houston can offer, there’s no way they’re going to give up all three of their 2012 draft picks. But even if they were to just give up one of their 2012 picks, along with Motiejunas and Parsons, that’s still a better package of players than Thompson and Zeller. The better the picks they give up, the worse the package of player will need to be and vice versa.
The Rockets also have enough cap space combined with both Martin’s expiring contract and a handful of other guys on expiring or non-guaranteed deals at $2 million or less to take back either Hedo Turkoglu and/or Glen Davis and Jason Richardson. I can’t see the Cavs taking back all three guys, even if Orlando is willing to take back Varejao.
I’ve heard from a few Lakers fans on Twitter who keep insisting that Houston wouldn’t trade for Dwight because it’s a rebuilding situation. Either they’d be stuck with a disgruntled player and if he left they’d be left with nothing. So what? Who cares if he’s disgruntled? Is he really going to deliberately hurt his brand more than he already has? He doesn’t have a ton of options in free agency next season so it’s not like Houston couldn’t get something back in a sign-and-trade. Even if they were to be left with a third of the assets I described above, they’d still be in a good position to rebuild.
If Houston trades for Dwight they’d have until the trade deadline to make an impression on him and see how he feels about signing an extension. If he makes it abundantly clear that he’s not going to stay then they can try to move him at the trade deadline anyway. That might be the Lakers only real chance to get him. If Houston were to trade Dwight to the Lakers for Bynum.
But until then you’re fooling yourself if you think that anyone has a better package to send to Orlando than Houston does. At this point, I’d much sooner bet my money that Dwight’s wearing red and white on opening day than purple and gold. That doesn’t mean that it’s impossible. I’m hoping it does.
Just ask yourself, if you were the GM or the Orlando Magic, what would you do?