The Houston Rockets, in pursuit of enough cap space to sign Howard outright to a maximum contract, traded 2012 first-round pick Royce White to the 76ers for "future draft considerations" on Friday, according to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski.
The Rockets also included Furkan Aldemir, a 6'10" Turkish power forward who's currently playing in Istanbul, in the trade.
It's the ultimate low-risk, high-reward maneuver for the Sixers, who effectively gave up nothing for a mid-first-round pick on the second year of his rookie contract.
Some Sixers fans may react as viscerally to this move as they did when general manager Sam Hinkie traded All-Star Jrue Holiday for rookie Nerlens Noel on the night of the 2013 draft. On the surface, that's understandable.
White, like Andrew Bynum, failed to appear in a single NBA game during the 2012-13 season, albeit for entirely different reasons. While Bynum's balky knees prevented him from ever taking the court as a Sixer, an anxiety disorder kept White sidelined during his rookie year in Houston.
A prolonged dispute with the Rockets over how to handle White's mental condition quickly turned ugly, causing White to go as far as threatening retirement. The Rockets suspended him for a large portion of the 2012-13 season after he refused an assignment to the team's D-League affiliate, the Rio Grande Vipers.
There's a very real chance that White's mental issues will remain equally problematic in Philadelphia. He may never suit up for the Sixers, making him yet another potentially sunk cost.
There's also a difference between White, who's only making $1.7 million in 2013-14, sitting out the entire 2013-14 season, and what happened with Bynum in 2012-13.
The Sixers gave up two mid-first-round picks of their own (Nikola Vucevic, the No. 16 pick from 2011, and Moe Harkless, the No. 15 pick from 2012), along with 2012 All-Star Andre Iguodala in order to obtain Bynum. They made such a sacrifice under the pretense that Bynum could be a franchise cornerstone, so long as he remained healthy.
As we now know, the big man couldn't hold up his end of the bargain. Given the Holiday-Noel draft-night trade, Bynum's time in Philadelphia is all but certainly at an end.
White failing to pan out, however, won't set the franchise back like the Bynum trade did.
If the Sixers don't pick up White's $1.8 million team option for the 2014-15 season by October, he'll become an unrestricted free agent after 2013-14. The Sixers currently plan on using White's deal as an expiring contract, according to John Gonzalez of CSNPhilly.com, which will force him to prove his worth during the upcoming season.
So, worst-case scenario, White never plays for the Sixers, and they clear his $1.7 million salary off the books in the 2014 offseason—when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Dirk Nowitzki and a number of other superstars could become free agents.
The Sixers-White union could end up being a positive for both sides, though.
Had White not entered the 2012 draft with concerns about his anxiety disorder, he likely would have ended up as a top-10 pick. His talent, especially on the offensive end of the court, is undeniable.
He's a 6'8" point forward who averaged 11.4 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game in 16 appearances with the Rio Grande Vipers in 2013. He's a strong scorer, rebounder and passer, which, assuming he can keep his anxiety disorder in check, could make him a valuable asset for the Sixers moving forward.
In the 2013-14 season, 58 of the 76ers' 82 games would be within roughly a six-seven hour drive of Philadelphia, according to Chris Towers of CBSSports.com. For White, whose crippling fear of flying ended up being a source of contention between he and the Rockets, being able to drive to a majority of Sixers games should help ease his transition into an NBA career.
If the Sixers relegate White to the NBA D-League, their recent acquisition of the newly renamed Delaware 87ers should only pay dividends. The 87ers will only be a short bus ride away from Philadelphia, which should ease at least some of White's concerns about playing there, too.
Hinkie's previous experience as an executive in Houston certainly doesn't hurt either. After being traded on Friday, White responded positively to a fan's question about his relationship with Hinkie.
The expectations for the 2013-14 Sixers post-Holiday trade will be the exact opposite of sky-high. For White, who's still yet to establish his foothold in the NBA, the Sixers' tankapalooza could end up being beneficial, as Spike Eskin of CBSPhillySports.com alluded to on Twitter.
Of course, Philadelphia fans can be notoriously harsh. If there's one thing Philly fans love more than anything, it's ripping a losing team to shreds.
With the Sixers likely heading toward a 25-win season in 2013-14, the White experiment could blow up in their faces, as Derek Bodner of Liberty Ballers suggested on Twitter.
Ultimately, if White fails to catch on in Philadelphia, it's going to harm his own career prospects far more than it will the Sixers franchise. The Sixers can cut their losses and move on in the 2014 offseason, while White alienating his second team in two years could spell a premature end to his NBA career.
That has low-risk, high-reward written all over it.