Small-Market Owners Should Blame Selves If the Lakers Get Dwight Howard

Ethan Sherwood StraussNBA Lead WriterJuly 20, 2012

ORLANDO, FL - FEBRUARY 26:  Eastern Conference All-Stars (L-R) Dwight Howard #12 of the Orlando Magic and Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat look on during the 2012 NBA All-Star Game at the Amway Center on February 26, 2012 in Orlando, Florida.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Dwight Howard is on the market and the Lakers seem to be inching towards acquiring the center.

Whether Dwight wants to re-sign is immaterial to an organization so confident in itself. The assumption is that Howard will re-up with Los Angeles, because who shuns a winning, famous team for less money?

On the sidelines, small-market owners sit, undaring to get involved in the Dwight mess. Houston is a big (though not premier) market, and Daryl Morey has the Rockets subtracting pieces for the privilege of being able to pay more for Howard's services.  

While Morey's moves may be questionable, you have to wonder about these small-market owners in the aggregate. If one of them trades for Howard, his options will be severely curtailed in free agency.

Dwight can only go to the Nets or Lakers in a trade, as both teams are heavily over the cap. Whoever trades for him will not risk losing the center to a big-spending, big-market club.

And yet...where is the movement? The less advantaged NBA owners and cities like to carp about how unfair the system is and how the superstars just want to play in big markets with nice weather. While that may be so, the owners themselves seem collectively willing to let Los Angeles improve via a Dwight trade.

This could be what psychologists call "a diffusion of responsibility," wherein the expectation that "someone" will handle a problem engenders a situation in which no one does. More to the point, owners conspiring so as to block Dwight-to-the-Lakers seems like the kind of collusion the league might frown upon. 

But this is different from a normal "diffusion of responsibility" situation because a small-market team stands to gain a huge advantage by making a move here.

As mentioned before, trading for Dwight ensures eliminating his path to the most desired franchises. The Heat, Bulls, Nets, Lakers, all these squads would be out of luck. That would create a great advantage for whichever club had Dwight in the first place.

Considering how Andrew Bynum is an oft-considered trade chip for Howard's services, a few small-market clubs out there could forge competitive offers. Even Charlotte has some recent draft picks, though very little talent.

The Hornets would have to wait for Jan. 15 to pull such a deal off, but Eric Gordon for Dwight Howard could result in a fearsome Brow-D12 frontcourt. The Cavs have young players on rookie-scale deals and the ever-useful Anderson Varejao.

Without trying to parse the specific trades that might get Dwight out of Orlando, it's funny that there isn't more chatter outside of Los Angeles. If these less desirable locations don't even attempt to better their lot by nabbing a superstar on a discount, then what does it say about these owners?

First, it reveals a risk aversion, an aversion that the Lakers have been (quite successfully) averse to. It's easy to dismiss this as, "Well, they're the Lakers," but credit to them for betting on themselves. They're willing to trade it all for a shot at Chris Paul, with no guarantee of a re-sign. Other teams might be wise to copy such confidence.

Second, it shows that the league may be less about "haves and have nots" than "trying vs. path of least resistance." Small-market owners are all too willing to complain about the tilted playing field, but the new CBA seeks to shackle desirable teams. Where are the Dan Gilberts of the world? Why aren't they seizing this opportunity and trying out the new NBA paradigm?

The answer is probably "too scared," which is why teams trundle along the path of least resistance, hoping to one day build through the draft. This is more often a recipe for failure than success. If Dwight Howard goes to the Lakers, in part, because Los Angeles was one of his few suitors, then these other owners only have themselves to blame.