(Oh, hello. This is my non-triumphant return to blogging. Been a while since I checked in around these parts, but I am hoping to change that. Here is another installment of my fictional Sunday newspaper column.)
Dwight Howard will play next season in Los Angeles, whether he likes it or not. While nothing is official, it seems the Lakers are the last team standing in this race. Brooklyn/New Jersey got up from the table earlier this week, and made their peace with acquiring Joe Johnson and Deron Williams to lead them into the Barclay’s Center next season. Houston, while still technically in the race, is attempting to sell the farm to buy the prized cow. They even cut loose their hardest working player in hopes of freeing up enough money to land the big fish. Atlanta would have to similarly dismantle their team in order to bring Dwight to town.
Through it all, Los Angeles has been offering Orlando the best player in return for Howard, that being 24 year old center Andrew Bynum. To his credit, Bynum has kept a pretty low profile throughout the trade talks. Bynum, like Howard, is also entering the last year of his contract. He’s won two NBA titles while with the Lakers, and while injuries plagued him early on, he’s entering his second straight healthy off season. What’s unique about Bynum is his willingness to play basketball for whoever wants to pay him to do it. He’s said he would sign long term with Orlando should he be dealt there, in what must have sounded like a foreign language to Magic fans after almost three years of Howard’s posturing.
The deal will obviously require more than just a straight up swap of big men. Los Angeles happened to part with quite a few draft picks in order to acquire another piece to their puzzle: former two-time MVP Steve Nash. The deal has changed the way the Lakers have pursued other potential additions in that Pau Gasol’s name has been notable absent from any rumor worth considering. Presumably, a Gasol/Nash pick and roll will be nothing short of deadly. Add Kobe Bryant and possibly Dwight Howard, and suddenly there is a Godzilla to Miami’s Mothra.
The problem with Howard all along has been his insistence of being dealt to Brooklyn, where he can expand his “personal brand” and take his shot at stealing away what the Knicks have going for them in the metropolitan market. Hollwood, for all it’s perks, had been crossed off Howard’s wish list for an odd-yet-kind of understandable reason: to this point, his career has been eerily similar to that of the first basketball superstar to refer to himself as “superman,” Shaquille O’neal. (Shaq was also picked number one over all by Orlando, and left to play center for the Lakers.)
Shaq has more to do with this than the casual fan might realize. While Shaq did leave Orlando for LA, he did so as a free agent. Orlando did not trade their superstar center when they had the chance, electing to try and sway him towards staying after his contract expired. When he signed with the Lakers, it left Orlando’s roster in shambles. The team would eventually bring in Tracy McGrady from Toronto, to middling success. What Orlando learned, is that letting your franchise player walk, without any compensation what-so-ever is devastating. So whether Dwight is sweating Shaq still or not, he has a much deeper connection to this possible trade than he might realize.
As if this doesn’t get strange enough, Larry Bird has something to do with all this too. You see, there exists something in NBA contract negotiation referred to as a player’s Bird rights. In a nut shell: teams may exceed their salary cap in order to resign their own free agents, so long as they’ve been with that same team for a minimum of three consecutive seasons, like Dwight Howard has in Orlando. That right to exceed the salary cap stays with that player should they be either A) traded or B) claimed off of waivers. So, that right to exceed the cap usually means offering one more year than anyone else can. Deron Williams’ recent deal is a great example. He signed with Brooklyn for almost $25 million more than anyone else could have offered, as well as for five years instead of four.
Whoever Dwight is dealt to can therefore ensure the inside track on resigning him, being able to offer a fifth year. If Dwight truly doesn’t want to play ball in Los Angeles, he’s going to leave a lot of money on the table to play somewhere else. This entire soap opera has been painfully mismanaged by whoever is in charge of handling Dwight Howard’s public relations. He’s already assumed Lebron James’ now-abdicated throne as “basketball’s most vilified.” He’s been the center of the basketball world’s attention, and has failed miserably. Despite all of that, he’s still in position to sign a contract worth over $100 million dollars with the Los Angeles Lakers, which might be the greatest consolation prize in history.
Seems too easy, doesn’t it?