Dwight Howard's future is constantly being dissected as his days in Orlando seem to be numbered, and a team that is not often mentioned as a potential landing spot is the Memphis Grizzlies. But perhaps they should be.
The Orlando Magic may not be openly shopping Howard, preferring to try and assemble a team around him that would convince him to stay, but you better believe they will consider every option available to them, including trading the center, once the lockout is over.
Howard averaged 22.9 points, 14.1 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game last season. He is the best defender in the league and has also developed a dominant offensive game, using that freakishly immense strength of his to overpower opponents in the low-post. His abilities make it abundantly clear why Orlando would prefer to hang onto to him.
What if it becomes increasingly clear that they can't though?
Should Howard make it through a good part of the season without signing or giving any indication he plans on signing an extension with the Magic, are they just supposed to roll the dice and take their chances when he hits the open market? The Cleveland Cavaliers would probably suggest they don't.
With each passing day that Howard, post lockout, of course, doesn't show an inclination to remain in Orlando, it begs to show that he is planning his escape. Once it gets to this point, the Magic are going to be forced to entertain offers for the star big man, if they haven't already.
Bigger market teams like the Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks have been considered possibilities, and even teams like the Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder have found their way into speculation, but what about the Grizzlies?
Very few teams can offer a capable big man in return for Howard, and the Grizzlies are one of them. Not only that but their big man, Marc Gasol is only 26 and on the precipice of stardom. The same could be said about the Lakers' Andrew Bynum, but Gasol is more versatile, and has shown more progress over a shorter period of time.
Memphis clearly wants to re-sign Gasol this summer, but if he shows even the slightest hesitancy to do so, he could be used as a valuable asset to help initiate Howard negotiations. He is one of the few package centerpieces that is sure catch the Magic's attention.
Gasol averaged 11.7 points, seven rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game last season. He can run the floor and has a great low-post as well as mid-range game in his arsenal. He is also a solid defender who is going to block at least two shots per game and grab his share of rebounds.
Some considered Gasol to be soft when he first entered league, yet he has proven capable of playing quite physical down low. His rebounding totals could be higher, but he is still young and capable of making adjustments to improve in that area of the game.
Is Gasol the next Dwight Howard? Probably not, but the Magic would be hard pressed to find a more competent replacement, especially given their limited options.
While including Gasol will prove to be important to jump-starting negotiations though, he alone will not be enough. He may have shown more progress and a stronger willingness to work than Bynum, but in a center starved league they could essentially cancel each other out.
If that's the case, the Lakers boast the likes of Lamar Odom to sweeten deal. Well, the Grizzlies have Rudy Gay, a star caliber player whom Memphis fared well without last season, rendering him near expendable.
The Grizzlies can state all they want that Gay is not going to be shopped, but if Howard is at stake, no one would be off limits. He is a versatile small forward, effective on both ends of the floor that could serve as a much needed leader to an Orlando team going nowhere fast.
Memphis may not exactly be the market that most picture Howard moving on to, yet the opportunity to play on a young, talented team alongside the likes of Zach Randolph, Mike Conley, OJ Mayo and Tony Allen may be something he is amenable too.
We can assume all that the bigger market teams have the best chance at acquiring him, yet which of those teams can offer arguably two star caliber players in exchange, while still boasting a solid young core that Howard could contend for titles with?
None of them. The Lakers come the closest with the ability to offer both Bynum and Odom, but the Grizzlies' duo is younger, and arguably possess more potential.
Howard's eventual departure from the Magic is almost a foregone conclusion and we must only assume Orlando is eventually going to realize this, concede, and explore trade options.
Up until this point we have looked at bigger market teams like the Lakers and Bulls to try and predict where his talents will be brought next. However, this is slightly narrow-minded and has prevented us from stepping outside the box to conceptualize an end to this saga.
At the end of the day it is believed that championship contention is what matters most to Howard. If that's the case then the Grizzlies are a viable eventual landing spot.
That is unless the Magic opt to revel at the prospect of becoming the warm-climate version of the Cavaliers.
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