This title is sure to create controversy, but hear me out.
Every team in the NBA would love to trade for Dwight Howard this season, but few have the resources to give the Magic a deal worth taking. Fortunately, because of the strength of Oklahoma City's roster, they do, and although it goes against conventional wisdom, this trade could make a lot of sense for both teams. It would establish the Thunder as the team to beat for the next five years.
First I will outline the details of the trade, then describe how the additions and losses of will affect both teams. Finally, I will project how it would change the lineups and playing styles of both the Thunder and Magic.
First thing's first: the basic details of the trade.
The Oklahoma City Thunder would receive:
1. Dwight Howard (C)
The Orlando Magic would receive:
1. Russell Westbrook (PG)
2. Kendrick Perkins (C)
There may need to be other players or picks involved to meet league requirements or salary cap limits, but that is difficult to project without knowing the inner workings of their front offices.
However, the most likely candidates from the Thunder to be included in a package would be their first-round pick or Cole Aldrich. The pick would only be necessary if the Magic were adding other players to satisfy NBA trade requirements, but for the Thunder, draft selections have largely been optional extras recently.
Their roster is already so filled with young, talented players in most positions that they really have no need for rookies.
Cole Aldrich could be needed to add extra value to the Thunder trade bait or to make the aggregate difference between the contracts less. He could also be a valuable role player on a team with less depth than the Thunder.
He is only 23, and he plays in the backcourt where depth is necessary. He could work as a backup to Perkins.
Orlando may include a draft pick if the Thunder include extra players in the trade, but this is unlikely because their depth is key to Oklahoma City's success. That would be the reason for sending two stars rather than one and a bunch of role players.
As we all know, Perkins is one of the best on-ball interior defenders, and is also a vocal team player who adds a gritty presence to any team he plays on.
This time last year, I may have said that this alone is enough to keep him in Oklahoma City—the Thunder felt like a young team who were out having a laugh, which is never going to cut it in the playoffs. However, because of the deep playoff run or Kendrick Perkin's attitude rubbing off on the rest of the team, the Thunder are playing with the intensity of a playoff side, and Perkin's attitude is less vital to the team.
Despite his defensive skills and intensity, Perkins does little on the offensive end and is not a great rebounder or shot blocker. Therefore, a trade is likely to make the Thunder's offense even better. It would force the defense to pay attention to the low post scorers and free up Durant to more one-on-one looks outside where he can dominate like no one else.
Losing Westbrook would change the Thunder a lot. Westbrook is one of the most athletic point guards in the league, and his ability to get to the basket is second to none. He is also a great rebounder from the position, and has the potential to be better than Chris Paul and Deron Williams.
Westbrook is also scores 20 points per game, and he can do it from the free-throw line, outside as a shooter on his day or, of course, at the basket. He is also showing ability as a passer, and while his assist totals are quite low, he is improving in that regard.
However, it is beyond doubt that this season Westbrook has struggled to involve the rest of the offense at stages, which removes Kevin Durant from the game. This may work in the regular season, but in playoff basketball it is important to spread the ball around and find open shots. Westbrook does struggle with this on his bad days, and is too often taking outside jumpers early in the shot clock.
By replacing Westbrook at point guard with another one—probably Eric Maynor in future years and Reggie Jackson for 2012—the ball distribution around the Thunder should be much better, even if the assist totals do not go up a lot.
This would make Kevin Durant more potent, but also allow the Thunder to spread the scoring load better against suffocating defenses.
On a side note, the trade would also stop the media from constantly debating the Westbrook/Durant relationship. Even if the players say it does not concern them, it must have a negative impact on the team.
Adding Howard, the best center in the NBA, would improve any team, but the Thunder would improve the most.
This is because of his offensive abilities.
Howard is a lethal low post scorer whose athleticism and reach allows him to score at ease if he is not double teamed. The Thunder totally lack a frontcourt player with those skills. Serge Ibaka is still beginning to develop an offensive game, and Kendrick Perkins will never develop one.
This means that teams just have to focus on defending the perimeter and the scoring talents of Westbrook and Durant. With Howard, this would be suicide.
Offensive variation puts defenses in a quandary. If too much attention is paid to Howard, Durant and the outside shooters would be able to take too many open shots. If teams focused on them, Howard would be able to go to work inside.
Very few teams could defend this, and it would pose more of a headache than the trio at Miami because of the different games they play.
Howard is also such a good defender. While Perkins is widely regarded as a top defender, Howard is unanimously regarded as the best in the league. He is a top-five shot-blocker, battles with Kevin Love to be the best rebounder in the NBA and is possibly the best on-man defender.
Therefore, as good as Perkins may be, Howard is better, and his presence would make the Thunder a tougher defensive team. He would turn them into an elite rebounding team, and his shot-blocking ability would combine with Serge Ibaka to create a duo who could alter almost any shot put up within the three-point arc.
Another advantage could be to the cap room of the Thunder. Although I am no expert on the matter, it seems to me that trading two superstars for one would free up some cap room. This logically should give the Thunder more money to bring back other talented youngsters like Ibaka and James Harden while retaining their depth.
While losing Dwight Howard would be a blow for the Magic, it is an unavoidable one. Howard will be leaving in free agency at the end of the year, so it makes sense to trade him now and get some valuable players to rebuild around.
The Magic made it clear that Howard would cost both Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum if the Los Angeles Lakers wanted Dwight Howard.
Although the tandem of Russell Westbrook and Kendrick Perkins is slightly less talented, they are younger (Perkins is 27 while Gasol is 31), and would fill more positions of need. The Magic already have Ryan Anderson who is performing well as a power forward, while Jameer Nelson has been lackluster this season at the point.
This all means that the duo of Perkins and Westbrook would probably be good enough to warrant a trade for the Magic.
While replacing Howard with Perkins would limit the interior scoring of the Magic, it would not make a huge difference in their defense inside. He could still shut down opposing centers in the Eastern Conference like he did for the Boston Celtics, and his hard-nosed attitude would benefit the reeling Magic like it did to the happy-go-lucky Thunder of last season.
More importantly, adding Westbrook could reinvigorate the Magic organization.
Westbrook has undoubted potential, and at only 23 is one of the brightest stars in the league. He also has the make-up to play better in a team where he is "the man." On a weak Orlando roster, his ability to beat people off the dribble, finish at the basket and draw fouls would be commended rather than vilified.
The loss of Howard for a developing player like Westbrook who plays a different game to Superman would also make the team worse for the moment.
That is not a bad thing.
Orlando needs to rebuild, and to do that they need high draft picks. If they fall from the playoffs and get lucky in the lottery, they could add a top young rookie to the roster and have their own big three in no time.
For the upcoming seasons, this trade seems to benefit both sides. The Thunder would get better defensively and more varied offensively, while freeing up some cap room.
Meanwhile, the Magic would get a future superstar and a great interior defender, both who are very young, for a player they were never going to be able to keep. The trade should even benefit the players.
Westbrook will get to be "Batman" instead of "Robin" at Orlando, and Dwight should get the chance to win some championships on what would be the best roster in the NBA.
The trade may not help the Thunder this season, or even hurt them because of the Eric Maynor injury, which would force them to start rookie Reggie Jackson. However, Howard is only 26, and the starting lineup they could field next year would be scary.
Here it is below.
C - Dwight Howard
PF - Serge Ibaka
SF - Kevin Durant
SG - Thabo Sefolosha
PG - Eric Maynor
C - Nazr Mohammed
PF/C - Nick Collison
G - James Harden
G - Daequan Cook
PG - Reggie Jackson
The majority of this roster could remain intact for five seasons, so they could possibly win "not one, not two," but three championships in that period.
In conclusion, I believe the Oklahoma City Thunder should be at least contemplating this trade. By adding Howard they would be adding the best interior defender and rebounder in the league who can also score 20 points per game at the low post.
Meanwhile, they will be giving up an athletic point guard who scores 20 points per game and has loads of potential, but struggles to accept his role as Kevin Durant's sidekick. They would also be parting with a great on-man interior defender who is an average rebounder and shot-blocker. Perkins is also a very limited scorer who has a penchant for technical fouls.
While staying with their current roster could still bring a championship home, a blockbuster trade for a player the calibre of Dwight Howard could create a dynasty.