Boston Celtics: Analyzing the Long-Term Impact of Dwight Howard Trade in Boston
The Boston Celtics must be relieved to see former Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard traded out of the NBA's Eastern Conference. But just because the league’s best center has finally ended his year-long saga by joining the Los Angeles Lakers, that doesn’t necessarily mean that Boston’s path to their 18th NBA title got any easier.
The Celtics made a number of roster changes that were overshadowed by Howard’s trade to the Lakers. But that four-team blockbuster was simply the final move in a summer that was full of surprises on the NBA free agency and trade front.
Now that Superman has relocated to Hollywood, there’s no shortage of NBA pundits discussing why the Dwight Howard trade will determine how the west will be won.
Nike executives will undoubtedly be scrambling to knock the cobwebs off of those Kobe Bryant and LeBron James puppets, in anticipation of a long-overdue NBA Finals matchup between the Lakers and the defending champion Miami Heat.
But the Celtics and their fans should also have the Howard trade on their minds, because the deal has several long-term implications for Boston.
One Less Playoff Contender in the Eastern Conference
The Boston Celtics now have one less perennial playoff contender to deal with this season as they attempt to make it back to the Eastern Conference Finals. The Brooklyn (formerly New Jersey) Nets and Washington Wizards now look like they’ll be playoff contenders for the foreseeable future, so even one less obstacle is a welcome sight for the Boston faithful.
The Orlando Magic will not be a contender in the east anytime soon after trading Howard and losing power forward Ryan Anderson in a sign-and-trade deal with New Orleans Hornets.
New Magic general manager Rob Hennigan is rebuilding Orlando from the ground up, using the model he learned while working for the Oklahoma City Thunder. But given the package of players (Arron Afflalo and Al Harrington) and draft picks (three lottery-protected first-rounders) that he received in the Howard trade, that plan could take a while to properly execute.
Meanwhile, the Celtics can breath a sigh of relief at the prospect of not having to face Howard in the playoffs at any point before the NBA Finals.
The Philadelphia 76ers Are a More Formidable Opponent
The Boston Celtics had a tough time eliminating the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 7 of the 2012 NBA Eastern Conference Semifinals. That job will only get tougher now that Andrew Bynum and Jason Richardson are calling Philadelphia home.
If Dwight Howard is the best center in the NBA, then Bynum is a very close second, and the Celtics aren’t ideally suited to defend traditional NBA centers. The 24-year-old Bynum brings a ton of NBA playoff experience and two championship rings to the 76ers and should be very happy being the main man on a team that is about an hour from his hometown in New Jersey.
Bynum’s pending free agency following the 2012-2013 season makes his future in Philly uncertain. But the likelihood of him leaving such an ideal situation for less money seems remote.
Richardson is also a playoff-tested veteran who adds perimeter scoring to the 76ers.
Philadelphia lost some key players from last year’s team when they traded All-Star small forward Andre Iguodala, amnestied power forward Elton Brand and lost guards Jodie Meeks and Lou Williams in free agency.
But the additions of Bynum and Richardson could make the 76ers a top-four team in the Eastern Conference and give the Boston Celtics even more fits if the two meet in the postseason again.
Doc Rivers Is Less Likely to Return to Orlando
Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers signed a five-year, $35 million contract extension back in May of 2011. Dwight Howard’s departure from the Orlando Magic kills any remote chance that Rivers would return to the team that gave him his first NBA head coaching job.
There was talk as recently as this past June discussing the chances of Rivers leaving the Celtics to return to Orlando. But that was well before Danny Ainge did a masterful job of improving Boston’s roster this summer and Magic GM Rob Hennigan accepted pennies on the dollar in exchange for Howard.
When Rivers’ current contract with the Celtics expires after the 2015-2016 season, anything is possible. But there’s absolutely no evidence to suggest that Doc would attempt to leave Boston early to take part in the rebuilding project going on in Orlando.
Re-Energizes Celtics-Lakers Rivalry
The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers have a long and storied rivalry that laid dormant for more than 20 years. That was until the NBA’s two winningest franchises reignited their championship tug-of-war in the 2008 NBA Finals, their first playoff meeting since 1987.
The Celtics captured their 17th NBA title by winning the 2008 showdown. But the Lakers returned the favor by winning Game 7 of the 2010 rematch, their 16th championship overall.
Boston and Los Angeles have met in the NBA Finals a record 12 times, with the Celtics holding a commanding 9-3 edge in those meetings. Lakers fans would quickly point out that Los Angeles has won three out of the last four meetings, however.
Both franchises seemed to be on the decline over the past two seasons, but the Lakers acquisition of Dwight Howard—along with the infusion of youth on the Celtics roster—creates the potential for more epic playoff matchups in the near future.
The Celtics would need to overtake the defending champion Miami Heat to make it back to the NBA Finals, while the Lakers may still be considered the second-best team in the west behind the Oklahoma City Thunder, last season’s Western Conference champions.
But both Boston and L.A. have talented rosters and brilliant general managers who have proven that they will make bold and shrewd moves to keep their teams in the championship discussion year after year.