It’s Now Or Never For The Lakers And Dwight Howard

It was reported on Wednesday that the Lakers plan to start discussions on an extension with Bynum’s agent, David Lee. It’s widely believed that Bynum won’t sign the extension now because he could sign for an additional year and a lot more money if he waits until after next season. Regardless, I couldn’t help but laught at Kupchak’s attempts through the media to convince Bynum to sign an extension now as opposed to waiting, using his own injury-riddled career as reference:

“I remember when I signed with the Lakers. I was coming off two back surgeries and I know what I told my agent. So you can argue it either way. If you feel you’re never going to get hurt and you’re healthy, God’s in your corner. You can take a risk and become a free agent and deal with all of the abundances of free agency. Everybody evaluates that differently. I know how I looked at it.”

I’m not sure if that was an attempt to get Bynum to sign an extension with the Lakers right now or to convince him to sign one with the Rockets if he’s traded to Houston. Smart move by Kupchak either way. Going about business as usual is the right thing to do in case there’s no trade and Bynum ends up remaining a Laker. Trying to convince Bynum to sign for fewer years is also good business, even if the chances are slim.

So what do you do now if you’re Houston?

For starters, this isn’t necessarily horrible news for them, if they’re really not afraid to trade for Dwight. They can use his defiance in an attempt to offer even loss for him. Don’t forget that Houston doesn’t have to make their best offer. They only have to make the best offer. They can probably pull that off with just half of their total assets. The difference now is that Rockets GM Daryl Morey can tell Hennigan that he can’t possibly make his best offer if Dwight is insisting he’s going to leave for Dallas next summer.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this is a chess move by Hennigan, as CBS Sports’ Ken Berger suggests:

“If Howard isn’t traded — and if he’s so determined to leave Orlando that he would forgo a year of income at $25 million to do it — then he would have to be content with accepting a four-year deal with 4.5 percent raises when he becomes a free agent. The Magic, or another team if he were traded, would be able to deliver a five-year deal with 7.5 percent annual increases. That’s Orlando’s trump card in this game of chicken.”

The only other logical explanation I can think of as to why Hennigan would fly to Los Angeles is perhaps he thinks he’s pressuring Morey into upping the Rockets offer by making him believe he’s serious about keeping Howard. Don’t forget this is the only time the Rockets can really trade for Dwight. A ticking clock is the only way that Hennigan can gain back any kind of leverage in a deal involving the Rockets and Lakers.

There’s no sense in Morey trading for Dwight at the deadline with so little time to make a positive impression. By then a playoff berth will probably be out of reach. If the Magic start the season with Dwight on their roster, regardless of how unlikely it is, it would take the Rockets out of the running for both Howard and Bynum.

Does Morey have the guts to trade for Dwight despite his insistence he’ll leave as a free agent? In many ways this reminds me of the Carmelo Anthony situation. Coincidentally, Hennigan is reported to have said he’s looking for a “knockout package”, similar to what the Nuggets got for Anthony.

Back then the Nets were in very much the same situation the Rockets are in now. Anthony was telling people he would only sign an extension with the Knicks. Whether the Nuggets felt the Knicks offer was better or if the Nets just chickened out and took their offer off the table, we’ll never know.

What we do know is the day after Anthony was traded to the Knicks, the Jazz traded Deron Williams to the Nets for the same package the Nets had offered for Anthony — rookie Derrick Favors (the third pick in the 2010 Draft), a 2011 first-round pick (which turned out to be third overall), and a future Golden State first-rounder (top-7 protected from 2012-13 and top-6 protected in 2014).

Compare that to the “knockout package” the Nuggets got from New York for Anthony, Chauncey Billups, and change:

  • Danilo Gallinari
  • Wilson Chandler
  • Timofey Mozgov
  • Raymond Felton (later traded for 35-year-old Andre Miller and Rudy Fernandez, who has since returned to Spain)
  • A 2012 second round pick (#38 overall pick Quincy Miller)
  • The Knicks 2014 first round pick
  • The right to swap first round picks with the Knicks in 2016

**It should be noted that Gallinari and Chandler were both restricted free agents at the conclusion of the season in which they were traded. The Nuggets re-signed Gallinari to a 4-year, $42 million contract before the 2011-12 season. Upon returning from a stint in China during the lockout, Chandler was signed to a 5-year, $37 million extension.

What constitutes a “knockout package” is in the eye of the beholder, I guess. Personally, I’d rather have the talented Favors (who is on his rookie deal through 2013-14), the other two first-round picks, and the luxury of not having to worry about extending Gallinari and Chandler the ensuing off-season.

The Rockets have better assets right now than either the Knicks or Nets were offering at the time for Anthony. The big difference is the Knicks knew Anthony would consent to an extend-and-trade. We know what Dwight is thinking now but we still don’t know what Bynum is thinking, contrary to a reported list of desired teams that Bynum’s agent has already dismissed as fabricated.

If the Magic do head into next season with the intention of moving Dwight at the deadline, the chances of a three-team trade involving Howard and Bynum becomes almost impossible. Three-team trades are rarely pulled off in-season because it’s much more complicated when it comes to matching salaries.

**To be fair, the Carmelo Anthony trade was a three-team trade that involved Minnesota. So while it’s unlikely, it’s not impossible.

The only advantage the Magic would have by waiting until the trade deadline is they’d have a better idea as to where the 2013 draft picks they would be offered were expected to land. And while Brooklyn is Howard’s preferred in-season destination, there are other teams that could be in play as well, ones that might be willing to take the chance on having Dwight — even as a possible rental.

Would Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf be willing to trade a package with Taj Gibson, Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, and a protected Bobcats first-round pick? I’m just thinking out loud here.

Regardless, I don’t expect anything to happen at least for a few more weeks. By then the Rockets newly-signed first-round picks wil be eligible to be traded.  In the meantime, we’ll just have to wait and deal with the leaks and rumors. Everyone is trying to gain the upper hand the only way they can. The Magic are using the ticking clock, the Rockets are using their assortment of assets, the Lakers are using Bynum, and Dwight is using the Mavericks.

We’re all being played, just don’t hold your breath. This could be a while.

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