Rivals aren't supposed to help one another out, but the Lakers and Clippers should in this case.
According to Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN, the Lakers remain optimistic that they can re-sign Dwight Howard but haven't closed the door on a potential sign-and-trade involving him, Blake Griffin and Eric Bledsoe.
The Lakers have had several discussions with Howard's representatives over the past few weeks and remain confident that they will ultimately keep him with the franchise, even as he's made it clear he will entertain other suitors.
One source with knowledge of the Lakers' thinking said Saturday that any suggestion they could not philosophically allow themselves to make a major trade with the Clippers was "overblown." If the Clippers do indeed decide to formally offer Griffin and Bledsoe in a sign-and-trade package for Howard, indications are that it's a proposal the Lakers will certainly not dismiss outright.
The thought of two in-house rivals pulling the trigger on a trade of this magnitude seems far-fetched. They play for the same city in the same building. It just seems wrong.
However, this deal truly would benefit both parties.
The Los Angeles Clippers
Though Chris Paul has complete control of the franchise, from roster to personnel decisions, he remains a flight risk. Having absolute power means very little when you don't have the ability to exert it properly.
According to ESPN's Chris Broussard, Paul wants to team up with Howard. While the two have tossed around the idea of joining forces, banding together in Los Angeles is far more appealing from a marketing, lifestyle and historical standpoint.
Acquiring Howard keeps Paul in a Clippers uniform. That's the ultimate goal. He's shifted the narrative of the entire organization, fresh off leading them to their best regular-season finish in franchise history (56 wins).
A first-round exit that included Paul being ejected in Los Angeles' final game of the postseason wasn't part of the plan, but it's hardly a harbinger of doom if the Clippers can retain him. Keeping him is more complicated than initially anticipated, though.
As currently constructed, the Clippers aren't coming out of the Western Conference. If by some chance they do, there's a strong possibility the Miami Heat will be waiting on the other end (at least next year). They're not equipped to beat them either.
Paul, Griffin and DeAndre Jordan don't make up the most formidable Big Three in the NBA, or even close to it. Griffin is right there, but Jordan isn't.
His 8.8 points per game this season were a career high, his post game is non-existent, and he's never averaged 30 minutes a night for an entire season (perhaps because of his career mark of 42.4 percent from the free-throw line).
To Griffin's credit, he's a legitimate superstar. Parting ways with an athletically gifted 24-year-old who is one of only 28 players in NBA history (20 of which are Hall of Famers) to average 20 points and 10 rebounds through his first three seasons isn't going to be easy.
Doing what's necessary never is.
Howard is still the best center in basketball. One down season isn't going to change that. Battling a bad back and shoulder, Howard still managed to average 17.1 points, 12.4 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game.
He's still one of just eight players in NBA history to have posted at least 18 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks per game through the first eight seasons of his career.
More importantly, Paul wants to play with him. It always comes back to that. Knowing the point guard is the future of this team, landing Howard at the cost of Griffin and a budding talent like Bledsoe is an avenue the Clippers have to explore if Paul wishes them to.
Of course, the deal isn't perfect. Rarely, if ever, is any trade without its flaws.
Aside from losing Griffin, the Clippers would still be stuck with Jordan. Paying him roughly $11 million annually to be a backup is a waste of financial and tactical resources. Paul and Howard won't lead the Clippers to a title on their own. They need help, and Jordan doesn't provide the necessary assistance.
On the plus side, this is a hindrance that has the potential to become an advantage.
According to Stein and Shelburne, Los Angeles is currently attempting to pry Kevin Garnett (and Doc Rivers) away from the Boston Celtics. Garnett is someone who can play inside-out and effectively complement Howard. He can do everything Jordan can't.
Thus far, Jordan has been a part of any potential package being sent to Boston. The two parties have reached an impasse over Bledsoe, however, who the Clippers would need to acquire Howard. Boston remains unwilling to deal Garnett without receiving Bledsoe in return.
Should this change—and with the way Boston seems to be salivating over Jordan and some first-round picks, it could—the Clippers could then have a core of Howard, Paul and Garnett to build around. At 37, Garnett isn't Griffin, but I'd take the final two years of his career over the next two of Jordan's.
Flipping Jordan for anything of value is the real issue, though. Even if it's not Garnett, the Clippers need to feel confident in their ability to move him after trading for Howard or run the risk of paying someone they don't need and probably don't want.
Assuming the Clippers can find a taker (they can) for the offensively limited center, bringing in Howard becomes that more much appealing. To ensure Paul remains in Los Angeles, it may even be a necessity.
The Los Angeles Lakers
Mitch Kupchak and the Lakers' interest in completing this transaction is bound to catch many by surprise.
Plan A has always been to re-sign Howard. Plan B has always consisted of them moving forward without him while preserving their projected cap space for 2014.
Sometimes plans need to change, and if Howard isn't willing to remain with the Lakers, this is one of those times.
First, understand that if Howard doesn't want to don purple and gold, the Lakers shouldn't want him. If he isn't sold on the history, on their proven ability to remain relevant and win championships, that's his problem. Let him go.
But don't let him go for nothing.
Los Angeles could play it safe, let Howard go elsewhere and head into the summer of 2014 with just Steve Nash's $9.7 million salary on the books. From there, the Lakers can chase LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and whoever is available. Perhaps any one of them would accept the challenge Tinseltown presents.
Would prospective superstars embrace those demands without the assurance they wouldn't be doing it alone? Debatable.
The Lakers will have enough money to sign multiple stars, but already having one in place would go a long way. To an extent, that's the plan with Howard. His presence is supposed to sell interested free agents on Los Angeles.
Griffin's presence would do the same. He's not Howard, his post game still needs work, he's had issues with injuries and his defensive execution fluctuates, but he's still a star.
Remember: Without Griffin, there is no Paul. There's no way Paul agrees to that trade back in 2011 if the Clippers don't have another star. Griffin was that star then, and he can be that star for the Lakers now and in the future.
Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Nash used to be selling points. All on the wrong side of 30, they don't have the same effect. Some would postulate their age has an adverse effect, and they'd be right.
The Lakers could actually use Griffin on the floor now, before he's used in their inevitable sales pitches. They need to get younger and faster, and he is both. He also allows Gasol to shift back to the 5, where he posted a 22 PER this past season.
Mike D'Antoni would love Griffin. He and the rest of the Lakers would love Bledsoe as well. Like Griffin, he's young and athletic, and he gives them their point guard of the future.
Bledsoe averaged 14.9 points, 5.2 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 2.5 steals per 36 minutes this year. Only eight other players in NBA history have hit such marks before their 24th birthday and while logging at least 20 total minutes per night. Four of those eight include Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Jason Kidd and Chris Paul himself.
Translation: Bledsoe has a future, a blindingly bright one.
When free agents take a look at the Lakers roster next summer, they would see a current superstar in Griffin and a player who is on the cusp of stardom being mentored by one of the greatest point guards to ever play the game (Nash) in Bledsoe.
Plenty of things could go wrong for the Lakers. Griffin could get injured or not be enough to recruit fellow superstars. Bledsoe could also be a bust.
Howard's shoulder could suddenly tear, or his back could go out after the Lakers ink him to a $100-plus million contract as well. There are always perils involved when making trades or signing players.
The Lakers can send Howard packing, and they can do so while receiving something in return. And when those two somethings are Bledsoe and Griffin, that's change worth embracing.
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