Houston Rockets: The Trade That Can Deliver Dwight Howard
Donatas Motiejunas, a Lithuanian forward and first-round pick of the Houston Rockets, wouldn't wait for the 2011-12 season to tip off to get in the headlines. His introductory press conference was a better starting point.
When a reporter asked new head coach Kevin McHale about the reality check the NBA would eventually bring his rookie class, McHale said: "It's a rude awakening when you step out on that floor...the first time you play against Dwight Howard, you'll understand a lot better."
To which Motiejunas later responded: "I just want to say maybe one word now about the thing about Dwight Howard. He can push me. If he can catch me, then we’ll see.”
Everyone in the room laughed it off while they thought about the many ways Superman would jam that statement back down the newbie's throat.
But does Motiejunas know something we don't? Did McHale serve that up for him on purpose? Surely he isn't dumb enough to call out one of the NBA's poster boys 15 minutes into his career, especially one that outweighs him by 50 pounds.
Unless of course he got word that the only damage Howard could inflict would come on the practice court when the cameras aren't rolling. Suddenly, Motiejunas' words aren't so bold.
Howard is a superstar at the center position. He may or may not be on the market, but since he made it clear that he won't sign an extension with Orlando before his contract runs out after next season, the Magic would be wise to trade him to avoid being LeBron'd.
The Rockets need a superstar and a center, thus they can kill two birds with one stone by acquiring Howard.
In it, the Rockets would include uber-efficient shooting guard Kevin Martin—a borderline All-Star—along with Luis Scola and Jordan Hill. The Magic would ship Howard and Quentin Richardson to Houston.
Orlando gets two high-level starters in Martin and Scola, and a quality reserve in Hill. Martin finished this past season ninth in scoring (23.5 PPG), third in three-pointers made and tied Kevin Durant for most free throws made with 594.
Scola, 31, averaged 18.3 points and 8.2 rebounds. He has a versatile post game and a silky smooth stroke out to 18 feet. Defense isn't a strength, but he's scrappy and the effort is always there.
Hill remains a project, but averaged 5.6 points and 4.3 boards in 15.6 minutes, putting his per 40 minute averages at around 14 and 11. The eighth overall pick in 2009, Hill has the potential to be a factor on both ends. Like most 23 year olds, he currently lacks consistency.
Can the Lakers really give much more than that? Mitch Kupchak maintains his stance that trading Andrew Bynum is out of the question, making Pau Gasol the centerpiece of Los Angeles' proposal.
Outside of Gasol and Bynum, who would the Magic want? Like Bynum, Kobe Bryant isn't available. Lamar Odom? Good player, but since Gasol makes $1.2 million more than Howard, Orlando would likely have to give up more than one quality player to match Odom's $8.2 million salary. Is he worth it?
Say for the sake of argument that the Lakers offered Gasol, Odom and one of their washed up, overpaid veterans (Matt Barnes, Derrick Fisher, World B. Free, or whatever Ron Artest is calling himself these days). Houston's offer is equal or better.
Gasol's age (30), scoring and rebounding numbers nearly match Scola's, and neither is much of a deterrent on defense, meaning the Lakers' main trade piece is just as valuable as Houston's No. 2.
Odom is a better all-around player than Martin, but sometimes you notice him and other times you're wondering if he made it to the arena. You might get points, you might get rebounds, maybe double-digit assists, but you could also get little of all the above. And how well will he perform without Bryant?
Martin has been one of the best scorers in the league since entering in 2004, without the help of another All-Star. He'll produce no matter the defenders or teammates he's surrounded by. You can't say the same for Odom.
As for the Nets, the notion that they're a serious player in this race is laughable. The trade for Deron Williams was supposed to help convince Howard to sign with New Jersey in 2012, so is Williams even on the table? Would Howard allow the trade to happen if Williams was part of it?
Look at the Nets' roster. Brook Lopez, a promising young center, is their only other desirable player. But Lopez is still on his rookie scale contract, which pays him $2.4 million per season. Orlando would have to take on loads of dead weight like Travis Outlaw, Kris Humphries and Jordan Farmar to make the salaries match.
Let's make a deal! Not.
Other teams are likely to join the fray before all is said and done, but for now, the Rockets' potential package trumps that of the assumed front runners.
General manager Daryl Morey just has to find a way to convince Orlando's Otis Smith to pull the trigger the same way his predecessor, Carroll Dawson, did to then-Magic GM John Weisbrod in 2004.
Nobody believed he could land Tracy McGrady with an offer of Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobley and Kelvin Cato, but when the dust settled, McGrady was in a Rockets uniform.
The odds of Howard pulling the same switch may not be as low as they appear on the surface.
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