NBA Trade Deadline: Who Will Be Next Year's Dwight Howard?

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistMarch 15, 2012

NBA Trade Deadline: Who Will Be Next Year's Dwight Howard?

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    The Dwight Howard saga has been one to forget, but we might not be able to.

    All signs point to the Florida soap opera yielding some sort of a conclusion by today's 3 p.m. EDT trade deadline. That being said, situations such as these have become a dime a dozen for the NBA.

    Each year, there has been at least one player who has commanded an obnoxious amount of attention regarding their impending free agency.

    In 2010, we had LeBron James. In 2011, there was Carmelo Anthony. And now, in 2012, we have Howard.

    So, who's next? 

Stephen Curry of Golden State Warriors

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    Stephen Curry is set to become a restricted free agent after next season, and provided he is healthy, he could find himself wishing he was spending his days elsewhere.

    After sending Monta Ellis to the Bucks, the Warriors' direction is anything but clear.

    While Curry is still young, he has shown flashes of becoming a superstar. If Dwight Howard has taught us anything, it's that superstars aren't keen on the idea of playing in Golden State.

    And should the Warriors continue their lottery-qualifying ways, Curry may not be sold on a future there either.  

Kevin Martin of Houston Rockets

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    The Rockets nearly sent Kevin Martin to the Hornets as part of the failed Chris Paul trade back in December, and it's unlikely he will forget it.

    If Martin remains in Houston until next season, he may opt to exert some leverage of his own. He will be an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2013, and could easily decide to take his scoring output elsewhere before he actually hits the open market.

    The Rockets have already exhibited a willingness to deal him once, but that was on their own terms.

    At the prospect of losing Martin for nothing, Houston would have a Dwight Howard conflict of their own to cope with.

Josh Smith of Atlanta Hawks

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    Josh Smith has already requested a trade from the Hawks this season, but the team has publicly stated that isn't going to happen. 

    Currently, Smith has no leverage to force Atlanta's hand. Next season, however, is a different story.

    Smith, like Dwight Howard this summer, has an early termination option clause in his contract that he can exercise after next year. Come next season, he can hold that over the Hawks' head in an attempt to find himself a new home.

    While Smith is no Howard in terms of presence, he's a close as a combo-forward will come. He is a catalyst on both ends of the floor and has proven he can deliver down the stretch.

    Even if Atlanta has no plans of re-signing him, letting him walk away for nothing is simply not an option.

Blake Griffin of Los Angeles Clippers

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    Blake Griffin is a restricted free agent next season, and the $9.2 million he is set to make will pale in comparison to the deal he eventually signs.

    While it's inconceivable that the Clippers would opt to willingly part ways with the high-flying power forward, nothing can be put past the penny-pinching Donald Sterling.

    However, if Los Angeles is not headed in a direction that Griffin deems promising, he could decide to keep his options open.

    Ultimately, the Clippers can match any offer he receives, but if Griffin truly wants out, he could force the organization's hand.  

Monta Ellis of Milwaukee Bucks

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    Monta Ellis was far from upset about his trade to the Bucks, and that's perhaps because he controls his own future.

    Ellis can opt out of his contract after next season, meaning that if he truly wishes to leave Milwaukee, he holds a significant amount of leverage less than five months from now.

    The combo-guard has drawn criticism for his sporadic shooting tendencies, but his ability to put points on the board is undeniable, and an asset the Bucks can ill-afford to let walk without receiving anything in exchange.

    Whether or not Ellis is a bona fide superstar is up for debate, but should he force the Bucks to make him available next year, the interest he will command won't be.

Chris Paul of Los Angeles Clippers

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    As part of the trade that landed him with the Clippers, Chris Paul exercised the option on the final year of his contract.

    While this means he will not be a free agent this summer, he is eligible to enter the fray next year. And then, all bets are off.

    Los Angeles has a solid core in place, but have developed a reputation as sloppy underachievers. If this trend continues, the Clippers could find themselves on the Hornets' side of a Paul dispute.

    Should Paul decide that the Clippers do not provide the best opportunity to win a championship, he could plot his escape to greener pastures, creating a frenzy not unlike the one we have witnessed with regard to Dwight Howard this year.

Dwight Howard of Orlando Magic

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    Who better to play the part of Dwight Howard than Howard himself?

    To date, the Howard saga has taken a number of improbable twists and turns. Despite the unpredictability of his situation in Orlando, though, it seems that he won't opt out of the last year of his contract.

    Should Howard return to the Magic for at least one more season, the rumor mill will not be silenced. In fact, it could wind up being even worse.

    Best-case scenario, though, is that the NBA is forced to go through this all over again next season, with the exact same player who is the center of attention this season.

    Can you say "exhausting"?