Winners, Losers and Takeaways from Hornets-Nets Trade for Dwight Howard

Sean Highkin@highkinFeatured ColumnistJune 20, 2018

Charlotte Hornets' Dwight Howard (12) kisses the basketball before the start of an NBA basketball game against the Indiana Pacers in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, April 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Chuck Burton/Associated Press

Six years after he wanted it, Dwight Howard is finally a Brooklyn Net.

One day before the 2018 NBA draft, the Nets agreed to acquire Howard from the Charlotte Hornets in exchange for Timofey Mozgov, two future second-round picks and cash considerations, according to ESPN.com's Adrian Wojnarowski.

During the "Dwightmare" saga in 2011-12, the three-time Defensive Player of the Year was attempting to engineer a trade out of Orlando, and the Nets were preparing to move from New Jersey to Brooklyn. Howard, in search of a flashier market, wanted to be the face of the Nets, and the team tried to pry him from the Magic accordingly.

It didn't work out, and a lot has happened for both Howard and the Nets since then.

Brooklyn went all-in around a team of pricey, aging veterans, but it never got past the second round of the playoffs. The Nets have been paying the price for mortgaging their future in the years since, with three straight trips to the lottery. Howard, meanwhile, has been on four teams since leaving Orlando, with high-profile flameouts in Los Angeles and Houston and lower-key stints in Atlanta and Charlotte.

All of these years later, the partnership is finally coming to fruition.

What does this trade mean for Howard, the Hornets and the Nets? There's a lot to unpack.

        

Winners

Brooklyn's future cap space

Kathy Willens/Associated Press

Nets general manager Sean Marks made this deal with next summer in mind. Howard is going into the final year of his contract, which will pay him $23.8 million for the 2018-19 season. Mozgov, meanwhile, has two years and $32.7 million left on his deal.

With Howard's deal coming off the books next summer, Brooklyn can potentially open up enough salary-cap space to sign two max free agents.

That summer, a number of high-profile stars could hit the market, including Jimmy Butler, Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard and Kyrie Irving. Whether the Nets can land any of them is another discussion, but with a promising group of young players, a well-respected coach in Kenny Atkinson and the New York market to offer, they'll have the opportunity to try now that Mozgov's contract isn't clogging up their cap sheet.

        

Other teams looking to move bad contracts

The four-year, $64 million contract Mozgov signed with the Lakers in 2016 was universally ridiculed as one of the worst deals in a summer full of them. That Mozgov has now twice been traded on that unappetizing deal hammers home one thing: There is no such thing as an untradable contract in the NBA.

Teams around the league with contracts they'd love to dump—think Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, Chandler Parsons, Evan Turner, Ryan Anderson and Ian Mahinmi—have to be encouraged that the Nets found someone to take Mozgov's deal, and all it took was two second-round picks.

That isn't to say every one of those teams will find a taker for their bad money. But if Mozgov can be moved, anyone can.

        

Losers 

Brooklyn's young bigs

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 11:  Jarrett Allen #31 of the Brooklyn Nets looks on during a game against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden on April 11, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or usin
Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

Center Jarrett Allen, the No. 22 overall pick in last year's draft, had a promising rookie season. Brooklyn may also want to re-sign 2015 No. 3 overall pick Jahlil Okafor if it believes he's still salvageable as an NBA player.

The Nets view Allen as a foundational player, and he'll need to play the bulk of his minutes at center. But given Howard's experience and standing in the league, it's hard to see him willingly playing a secondary role, especially in a contract year.

If Howard plays an undue amount of minutes, it would take away from Allen's development. If he's relegated to a lesser role, it could lead to unhappiness.

If Okafor sticks around on a make-good contract, he'll also want minutes to prove himself. Howard's presence further complicates that.

       

Charlotte's 2018-19 outlook

The Hornets have spent the past several years in no-man's land, and it's hard to see that changing in the coming year.

Regardless of why they wanted to move on from Howardpossibly due to his effect on a locker roomhe is better than Mozgov. This move makes the Hornets worse in the short term, and they're taking on more long-term money as well.

Even in the Eastern Conference, it's tough to look at this Hornets roster as any more likely to be a playoff team than it was last season.

       

What it means for Dwight Howard

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 15: Dwight Howard #12 of the Charlotte Hornets brings the ball up court during the game against the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 15, 2018 in Indianapolis, Indiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges an
Michael Hickey/Getty Images

A lot of factors got Howard to where he is today.

Howard's health has gradually deteriorated over the years, and he's no longer the dominant force he was during his peak with the Magic in the late 2000s. The NBA has also gradually gone away from traditional center play, which limits his usefulness.

The gap between Howard's perception and his career accomplishments is massive. There's no question that he's a deserving Hall of Famer. It's impossible to rattle off his resume—three-time Defensive Player of the Year, eight-time All-NBA selection, five-time All-Defensive selection, eight-time All-Star and the best player to make the Finals in the Eastern Conference during LeBron James' apex—and not come to that conclusion.

But Howard also became the least-liked superstar of his generation among both fans and peers. His bizarre handling of his trade request from Orlando and admitted tension with head coach Stan Van Gundy kicked off several years of seemingly soured relationships with high-profile teammates, most notably Kobe Bryant and James Harden.

In coming to Brooklyn, Howard joins his fourth team in as many seasons. He put up solid individual numbers for the Hornets last year, averaging 16.6 points, 12.5 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in 30.4 minutes per game, but it's tough to ignore the trend of his teams wanting to ditch him after one season.

Howard turns 33 in December and hits free agency again in July 2019. Given his age, history of back and shoulder problems and his current reputation as an undesirable journeyman, he has an uphill battle to earn another big payday next summer. Even putting up good stats on a bad Nets team might not be enough to sway teams.

His foray into free agency could be similar to what Derrick Rose experienced this past summer: shut out of teams' future plans due to his antiquated skill set and declining health, hoping to catch on for the minimum.

Just four years ago, Howard was still seen as one of the league's top stars. He now enters the 2018-19 season in Brooklyn with his NBA future as uncertain as it's ever been.

        

What it means for the Brooklyn Nets

Nets general manager Sean Marks inherited an enormously difficult task when he took over for Billy King in 2016. The Nets gave up four years of future first-round picks in 2013's disastrous Kevin Garnett-Paul Pierce trade. As a result, they were unable to add young talent in the draft when their veterans aged out of effectiveness. They've been among the NBA's most irrelevant teams for the past few seasons.

Marks has done as good a job as anyone can given the circumstances.  

He's drafted well with the few picks he has had, landing Allen and Caris LeVert in recent drafts while finding under-the-radar free agents like guard Spencer Dinwiddie who have become legitimate contributors. He picked up embattled guard D'Angelo Russell in a trade with the Lakers for taking on Mozgov's deal. The Howard trade is another savvy financial move that doesn't do much for the Nets' short-term hopes of competing for a playoff spot but makes their long-term flexibility far more palatable.

The Nets still have a ways to go before reaching the level of relevance they have yet to achieve in the years since moving to Brooklyn. But with Allen, LeVert, Dinwiddie and Russell on board, they have for the first time what they haven't had for a long time: hope for the future.

This year will be the last in which they don't own their own first-round pick (No. 8 overall, which Boston traded to Cleveland in the Kyrie Irving deal last summer). Between that and the cap space the Howard trade opens up next summer, Marks has put Brooklyn in a better spot to be competitive in the future.

        

What it means for the Charlotte Hornets

Trading Howard is the first major move new Hornets president Mitch Kupchak has made since taking over for Rich Cho as Michael Jordan's top decision-maker. Kupchak has a history with Howard, having traded for him in 2012 as general manager of the Lakers. Howard's lone season in Los Angeles was a train wreck, and he left for Houston the following summer. It thus isn't surprising that Kupchak wanted Howard gone as he attempts to remake the roster.

Unfortunately, he still has a lot of work to do.

The Hornets still have several big contracts for underwhelming players on the books in Nicolas Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller and now Mozgov. The health of Zeller and Kidd-Gilchrist remains a question mark. The team's one legitimate All-Star, point guard Kemba Walker, will be an unrestricted free agent next season, and he'll be in line for a massive raise from the $12 million he'll make next season.

The Hornets picked up two second-rounders in the deal, the No. 45 pick in Thursday's draft and a selection in 2021, which is nice. But they're still in as unenviable a position as any team in the league: capped out with mediocre players, not good enough to make the playoffs and not bad enough to be in the running for one of the top lottery picks.

It's going to be a while before the Hornets are back in the mix in any meaningful way.  

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