The moment Dwight Howard picked up his player option for 2012-13 in Orlando, the discussion around the league shifted from, “Who will sign Dwight Howard?” to “Who will trade for Dwight Howard?” As if that question wasn’t already complicated enough, Howard’s back surgery last week raised concerns over whether he’ll be ready to play anywhere by the start of next season.
Understandably, many teams are considering just how much risk the 26-year-old All-Star is worth, even though the prognosis appears encouraging following the repairs to the herniated disk in his back. According to the New York Post, one team that’s definitely concerned is the New Jersey Nets, who plan to “sit back and let the saga unfold.”
“If the risk seems worthwhile,” the paper adds, “they will pursue him again.”
Although a back injury is far from a trivial concern, the Nets can’t afford to be too cautious in their dealings with the Magic. As the team bids New Jersey adieu, they have more to gain than almost any team in basketball if they can land the game’s best center.
Howard would provide an instant marquee attraction to draw Brooklyn fans and establish the team as a legitimate rival for the Knicks. Although by himself he isn’t enough to put a team in title contention—a fact Orlando has learned to its dismay—he’s as good a building block as the Nets could ask for.
Besides, just making the playoffs would be a victory for a franchise that hasn’t seen the postseason since Jason Kidd left town five years ago.
The Nets' honeymoon in Brooklyn will end very quickly if they keep playing the kind of non-competitive ball that’s defined them (even with Deron Williams running the point) over the last couple of seasons. This isn’t an expansion team, and they won’t get the kind of grace period to prove themselves to the fans that an expansion team would have.
Any deal for Howard isn’t likely to be made until after Williams has already decided about picking up his player option. The likeliest scenario appears to be one in which Williams (who went to high school in Texas) bolts for the Mavericks, leaving the Nets with only Brook Lopez to carry the team.
That’s a recipe for disaster, but Howard (even if the Nets have to give up most of their slim remaining talent to get him) would be enough to keep the team functioning. Having him on the roster would also make it infinitely easier to attract free agents to what’s been a tough sell as franchises go.
If anything, Howard’s injury might actually work in the Nets’ favor, as it could make Orlando’s asking price slightly less astronomical. Either way, though, the Nets can’t afford to let another team outbid them for Howard if they can help it—even in spite of his injury.