Welcome to life in the NBA, P.D.E.
Here, we ponder what superstars—and I use that term lightly—are going to do when they become free agents years from now.
It's been this way for a while.
Since Lebron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh each decided to take unprecedented three-year contract extensions back in July 2006, everyone immediately began wondering about their intentions. Five years later, as the Heatles are poised to win the Eastern Conference in their very first season together, the attention is squarely on Chris Paul and Dwight Howard.
Will either—or both—follow the lead of LeBron James and seek the legacy they hope to leave on the game elsewhere? Or will they stay true to their teams and follow the examples set by Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce?
That, we don't know.
What we do know, however, is that if Dwight Howard opts to leave Orlando, the right decision would be to join the New York Knicks.
Some have dismissed the possibility of the Knicks adding Dwight Howard, mainly because they lack enough attractive assets in the form of All-Star caliber players on rookie contracts, draft picks and trade exceptions.
What those people need to remember, however, is the meaning of the term free agent. Quite simply, Carmelo Anthony forced a trade to the Knicks because of the fear of losing an astronomical sum of money by opting for free agency—and hence being subjected to the new rules of the to-be-negotiated CBA.
Dwight Howard, no matter what, will be subjected to that new CBA. So, in his situation, forcing a trade isn't a necessity. Additionally, because the Knicks currently have commitments to only three players for the 2012-2013 season (Amar'e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony and Renaldo Balkman), it is very possible—and even likely—that they will manage their situation to preserve the ability to extend Dwight Howard a contract as a free agent (there's that term again).
All in all, the meaning here is simple. If Dwight decides that joining the Knicks is in his best interest, he can present the Magic with the ultimatum that Carmelo Anthony never presented to the Nuggets:
Trade me to New York and get what you can get or lose me for nothing.
Again, this would require the Knicks to intelligently manage their cap situation. Because only by maintaining their cap space can they create leverage and force Orlando's hand. Regardless, the point is this: A lack of "assets" would mean nothing if Dwight let it be known that he was heading to the Knicks—with or without Orlando's assistance.
But the bigger question is, why would Dwight Howard want to go to the Knicks?
The simple answer: Because it's the perfect situation.
More perfect than forcing a trade to the Los Angeles Lakers?
While a trade to the Lakers for Andrew Bynum and either Lamar Odom or Pau Gasol would make some sense for both the Lakers and the Magic, why should anyone, including Dwight believe that he would be able to win a championship with a shallow team and a—by then—34-year-old Kobe Bryant?
Derek Fisher would be 38, and Ron Artest would still be a maniac. Maybe Dwight Howard will have confidence that the Lakers will be able to rebuild around him. That wouldn't be a bad bet, considering Jerry Buss' impeccable tenure as owner. After all, the Los Angeles Lakers are the New York Yankees of professional basketball.
But my goodness, that leaves some awfully big shoes to fill.
That could be a problem.
And you know what else? It's at least worth thinking about.
Currently, the Lakers have over $60 million committed to only four players—Kobe, Pau, Artest and Blake—through the conclusion of the 2014 season. If Gasol is included in any Howard deal, Dwight would occupy that salary spot, so the numbers would be the same. How much would the Lakers be able to improve? How good will the Thunder be by then? The Trailblazers? The Grizzlies?
That being said, the Lakers, with Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant, would probably have one chance—two at most—to win an NBA Championship. And frankly, I don't see a shallow team built around a 34-year-old Kobe Bryant beating the Miami Heat or Chicago Bulls in the NBA Finals (you know, assuming the Lakers got that far).
Even worse, if Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant managed to win a championship or two together, what would that really mean for Dwight's legacy? He'd be mentioned alongside Vlade Divac and Andrew Bynum—Not George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O'Neal. He'd also be viewed similarly to how Lebron James is viewed now. That is, he ultimately lacked the courage to be something, instead, he merely wanted to be a part of something.
If Dwight Howard wants to be something, he should be the starting center for the 2012-2013 New York Knicks.
Immediately, with Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire flanking him on the wings, and Chauncey Billups (on a minimum contract) or even Toney Douglas playing the point, the Knicks would have a foursome ironically equipped to destroy everything by utilizing a triangle offense. Carmelo Anthony (28) and Amar'e Stoudemire (30) would be young enough to have at least four solid years of contending alongside Dwight (27), and the presence he would provide in the middle would be exactly what the doctor ordered for the New York Knicks.
Sure, you might have to replace Mike D'Antoni with a coach that would emphasize half-court execution, defense, discipline and triangle offense principles, but being that Mike D'Antoni is entering the final year of his contract, that's not a huge concern.
In terms of his legacy, winning even one championship with the New York Knicks would immortalize Dwight Howard. He'd be a living legend in New York City, and across the country. He'd be looked at as the final—and most important—piece that ended the Knicks' 40-year championship drought.
And worst case scenario, if the Knicks failed to get it done with Dwight, he wouldn't leave a legacy as someone who forced his way into a situation that was reminiscent of taking the easy way out. The Lakers, let's remember, are only one year removed from back-to-back championships. The Knicks on the other hand?
Let's just say that some Knicks fans were still satisfied with their season after being the only team swept out of the first round of the 2011 NBA Playoffs.
Ultimately, for Dwight, joining the Knicks would be the best decision because it's a low-risk, high-reward move. The team desperately needs his size and his skill set, and Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire's games—with the right offensive philosophy—would complement him well. They would have the collection of talent and personnel to overthrow Miami, Chicago and Oklahoma City. The same couldn't be said if he joined the Lakers.
Best of all, in New York, the Knicks would have more time and opportunity to accomplish great things than Dwight's Lakers would.
Some say that Dwight won't end up in New York because he isn't a "New York Guy."
Well, nobody—except Stephen A. Smith of ESPN New York and Alan Hahn of New York Newsday—thought Lebron James was a "Miami guy."
But guess what? Lebron chose what he thought was best for his legacy.
And in terms of Dwight's legacy...
Two championships in Los Angeles? Yawn.
(Kareem still doesn't have a statue.)
One in New York? Fawn. Eternal.
So the question is, does Dwight Howard want to be a part of something, or does he want to be something?
That, we don't know.
But what we can hope, is that he has better advisors and better foresight than Lebron James did back in July 2010.
He needs to be something...
So why not be the final pillar to a dynasty?