It’s that time of year again.
Every team’s general manager is trying to wheel and deal their way into improving their team’s roster.
This year’s most sought after prize has, for at least a year, been the subject of innumerable rumors and immeasurable speculation—Dwight Howard.
With Deron Williams apparently agreeing to a five-year contract extension with the recently relocated Brooklyn Nets, all eyes have been on Howard.
When trade rumors began to swirl around the league’s best center, it was leaked that he had a trade wish list of three potential destinations.
According to sources, he was willing to sign an extension with the Brooklyn Nets, the Dallas Mavericks, and the Los Angeles Lakers. Then last week Howard met with Magic GM Rob Hennigan and requested a trade to the Nets, announcing that Brooklyn was the only team with which he would sign an extension. This seemed to indicate the end of all hopes for other teams seeking to add a superstar center with All-Star caliber talents to their roster. Teams like Houston, Dallas, both teams in Los Angeles, and even Atlanta seemed out of luck and were forced to focus elsewhere.
Brooklyn, however, has made two significant moves since that interview.
The first was a trade with Atlanta that sent the Hawks’ All-Star guard, Joe Johnson, to the Nets in exchange for Jordan Farmar, Johan Petro, Anthony Morrow, Jordan Williams, DeShawn Stevenson and a future first-round draft pick. Soon thereafter, the nets were able to re-sign Deron Williams to a five-year contract extension.
These two moves changed everything.
With these two massive contracts, it becomes virtually impossible, financially, for the Nets to bring another max contract into their fold.
They signed Williams to a five-year $100 million extension, equating to approximately $20 million a year. Joe Johnson’s contract is considered the largest obligation in the league at present. He has four years and $90 million left on the contract that he signed in the summer of 2010. This equates to even more than Deron Williams' at around $22.5 million a season.
With the harsh salary cap penalties for repeat cap offenders under the new CBA (which would take effect in the coming seasons), the Nets simply cannot afford Howard.
The Magic are not going to want to take the bloated salary of Johnson, so using him to trade for D12 is not an option and they cannot use the amnesty clause on Johnson, having already used it on Travis Outlaw last December. So they are stuck with over $42 million in salary between Johnson and Williams for the next four years. With a salary cap hovering around $58 million, they just cannot add another max contract that they’ll be locked into for four to five years and that would result in the outrageous penalties.
With the Nets out, Howard will have to settle for his second choice or take a tremendous pay cut to play in Brooklyn. While this is good news for all teams involved, it is particularly good news for the Los Angeles Lakers, whose center, Andrew Bynum, is rumored to be the Magic’s trade piece of choice in the Howard sweepstakes.
There are several benefits for Howard to choose Los Angeles over another team such as the Houston Rockets or Dallas Mavericks.
Sources claim that Howard’s next Adidas contract could be worth up to double what it might be if he plays in the major markets of either New York or Los Angeles. That kind of money can be a powerful motivator. Beyond that, the Lakers, having just acquired Steve Nash, would be easy favorites to make the finals if Howard joined up with Nash, Bryant and Gasol. Even the potent offense of Oklahoma City’s Durant/Westbrook combo would have a difficult time slowing that potential Lakers quartet.
Howard would also become the face and future of one of the most storied franchises in American sports.
The city of Los Angeles would embrace his goofy upbeat personality the same way it did with Magic Johnson and Shaquille O’Neal. He would be the biggest sports star in Los Angeles as there is no football team there and baseball is a distant second in the hearts of the majority of L.A. sports fans. His celebrity would grow larger in Hollywood than anywhere else in the nation.
While all this is just speculation, many Lakers fans are unsure if it is wise to trade Bynum for Howard.
Many believe that Howard’s recent behavior and disruptive attitude within the Magic organization outweighs what they perceive as only a marginal difference in skill. There is legitimacy to much of their argument and it is worth another look.
Bynum just had the best season of his career.
He averaged 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds, 1.9 blocks, and shot 55.8 percent from the field as a starter for the Western Conference All-Star team. Many of the concerns about his prior health issues seemed to be put to rest as he played a full season without missing many games due to injury.
These numbers are very respectable and not far behind Howard's, who by comparison averaged 20.6 points, 14.5 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and shot 57.3 percent from the field. While those numbers beat Bynum’s in every category, it is important to note that Howard did not have another seven footer playing beside him every night. Bynum was also not the primary scoring option on his team—Howard was.
Beyond the stat line, it can be argued that Bynum has played with this team for seven seasons, knows his teammates well and knows his role within the organization while Howard would have to learn a new system and discover his role. It is also not known how Howard might work with Kobe Bryant, one of the strongest personalities in the league.
The problem with this argument is that the whole team is learning a new system this year.
Mike Brown did not have a training camp last year to teach his players a new system, radically different from the one that the Lakers had been using for more than a decade. So everyone is learning a new system and discovering their new role within that system. And as for Kobe, I think his legacy is his priority at this point in his career and if he feels that a positive relationship with Howard will improve his odds of more championships and in turn a more storied heritage, he will play nice.
In the end, it comes down to who is a better choice for the franchise.
I don't know how to argue that Bynum is a better choice for the Lakers in the long run.
Howard is the obvious long-term option in this case. While Bynum may have an inch of height on Howard, Howard is the far superior athlete. Howard’s track record of durability compared with Bynum’s history of injury makes Howard a better choice, even coming off his first career injury and back surgery. Bynum is two years younger than Howard but has only one less season in the NBA. The difference in age is negligible.
Perhaps the single most important difference between these two centers is their ability to lead a team.
There is no arguing that Howard’s behavior this past year has been distracting and detrimental to his team and has left the organization in shambles. He ought to be ashamed and it should not be overlooked. Having said that, Bynum has not been the picture of harmony inside the Lakers’ locker room either. His laissez-faire attitude on and off the court, along with his questionable behavior in both areas has led to distractions that the Lakers did not need.
In the end I look back to 2009, when a young, but determined, Dwight Howard led his team to the NBA Finals by beating the defending champion, the Boston Celtics.
LeBron James then led an Eastern Conference favorite, the Cleveland Cavaliers, to compete in the finals. He even overcame a 3-2 deficit to the Celtics, winning a Game 7 on the road in Boston. I simply cannot picture Andrew Bynum, under any circumstances, doing the same thing as the leader of a team.
Bynum is a fantastic center and has a tremendous amount of potential.
Unfortunately, I think he will always be a second option, much the way many view Pau Gasol. While Gasol is one of the most versatile and talented big men in the league, he was not able to lead a team as the primary option anywhere in the playoffs. Once he had Kobe Bryant as a leader and he was able to be the Robin to Kobe’s Batman, he flourished. I feel that Bynum is much the same type of player.
Howard, however, is very capable of being the first option on a team and has shown the type of leadership in previous seasons with the Magic to inspire confidence in making him the future cornerstone of a franchise.
With Gasol’s and Kobe’s contracts expiring in 2014, Howard will become the leader of the Lakers organization at that point, at which time he will be still be a young 28-year-old. Howard is the type of player to lead an organization into the future and in the case of the Lakers, into the next phase of their dynasty.
Now that Steve Nash has signed with the Lakers, the big question on everyone’s mind is, “Will Dwight Howard become a Laker?”
The way is paved for it to happen. Conditions could not be much better for the Lakers and although Howard has made it apparent he’d prefer to play in Brooklyn, Los Angeles is not a bad alternative. In everything from the climate, to the star power, to the chances of making the NBA Finals, the Lakers seem the obvious choice for a charismatic big man looking to advance his career and win multiple titles.
Who knows? Maybe in L.A. Howard will win not one, not two, not three, not four, not five…
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