The Dwight Howard sweepstakes are as on as they have ever been. The Magic took a half-hearted approach to trading Howard back in December when he originally issued his trade demand. It appears from all the reports coming out of the Amway Center and the Magic offices that the franchise is determined to end the Dwightmare, the drama and everything else.
The team is moving Howard.
Magic general manager Rob Hennigan confirmed he met with Howard in Southern California last weekend and that Howard re-affirmed his trade request. Then, of course, Howard told Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports that there is only one team on his list that he will sign a long-term extension with. Many believe that to be the Brooklyn Nets.
But Monday's developments may have put a wrench in that plan. The Nets on Monday acquired Joe Johnson from the Hawks (along with his contract worth $89.3 million the next five years) for Jordan Farmar, Johan Petro, Anthony Morrow, Jordan Williams and DeShawn Stevenson. All but Stevenson are expiring contracts, depleting the Nets assets and ability to make a trade with Orlando. No deal is official until next week however.
Then came reports that Deron Williams agreed to a five-year deal worth nearly $90 million. To say the least, if the cap comes in at around $58 million, the Nets have already committed somewhere in the neighborhood of $35 million of it (nearly $20 million to Johnson this year alone and approximately $15 million to Williams). That does not even include the four-year, $40 million deal the Nets agreed to with Gerald Wallace.
That does not bode well for Howard if he truly wants to join the Nets. The only way the Nets can secure Howard at this point is through a trade and then through a very hefty luxury tax bill.
That does not mean Brooklyn is not working to get a deal done. The latest report has a deal with a framework of Howard going to Brooklyn with Brook Lopez, MarShon Brooks and three future first round picks heading to Orlando plus a third team getting involved sending something Orlando's way for Kris Humphries and possibly Hedo Turkoglu.
It is a flimsy framework for a deal because it does not give Orlando any of the things it wants -- valuable first round picks, young players on reasonable contracts, or expiring deals. The Magic are in no hurry to deal Howard to the Nets if this is what is being offered. And free agents like Humphries, Lopez and Wallace (if he is involved) would have to agree to the destinations they are sent to.
Unless the Nets find a way to sweeten the pot a lot more, it does not seem likely Howard will get his wish and play for Brooklyn.
So what about the other places Howard could land? What kind of deals are the Magic looking at from them?
First it is important to recognize what kind of players the Magic want in return for Howard. Many believe that Hennigan's "strategic" plan to building the Magic includes acquiring a package of players for Howard that are young or on short or expiring contracts. Orlando does not want to wrap itself in the long-term, bloated contracts that put the team in the hole. The players the Magic acquire in this deal are likely here to hold the boat steady, not necessarily to build around.
It is the move that sets up the next move remember.
Also remember that Orlando does not want to get stuck with an underperforming former star like the team did with Steve Francis after the Tracy McGrady trade. This is more of a two-year stop gap to set up the next era than a quick reload... that is unless a team is willing to offer a genuine star.
Orlando has been reported to have conversations with several teams already. There are the aforementioned Nets (although that seems to be a product solely of Howard's interest in them more than something that could actually happen). Then there are the Lakers, Hawks, Rockets and 76ers whom the Magic have reportedly had conversations with.
Out of those teams, it seems the Lakers and Hawks are the only teams that could offer bona fide All Stars you can build around.
The Magic continue to insist the Lakers include Andrew Bynum in any deal involving Howard. And the Lakers are desperate to remain championship contenders. Whether the Lakers are finally ready to put Bynum on the trade table is another question. Lakers owner Jim Buss has a strange infatuation with Bynum and does not seem to want to let him go, even for Howard. Either way Los Angeles would much rather get rid of Pau Gasol than Bynum at this point. Bynum has more upside because of his youth and a friendlier deal expiring at the end of 2013 rather than Gasol's deal which expires in 2014.
Likely though, Orlando and Los Angeles would swap some bad contracts too. Out goes Hedo Turkoglu or Jason Richardson, in comes Metta World Peace (nearly $15 million during the next two years) or Steve Blake ($8 million during the next two years). Neither of those players exactly solve any of the Magic's contract problems.
For sure, Orlando needs to free up some cap space for itself when the team trades Dwight Howard. The Lakers may be able to give the Magic the best player possible out of this deal, but they do not have much else to offer.
It has long been rumored that the Rockets are a team that wants Howard even for a full-season rental. A deal with the Rockets seems to be the most likely because of this. Houston has some interesting players to offer. After all, Houston has barely missed the Playoffs the last few years in the Western Conference. The Magic, if this is what they want, could stay relatively competitive with a group coming from the Rockets.
A deal where the Magic rid themselves of a bad contract (like Jason Richardson) along with Howard for Kevin Martin (who will become a free agent after this upcoming season) and Luis Scola (who has three years remaining with the 2015 season partially guaranteed) would keep Orlando competitive. Again, this may not be exactly what the Magic would want. But Martin is a skilled scorer and Scola is very solid in the post. This would not be a killer deal and the Magic could move on relatively quickly.
This exercise is about bringing in players that are either young and can be developed or are on short contracts and will not commit the Magic to any long-term deals. A deal with the Rockets might be short on both of those. But it would keep the team competitive. Again, that is great if that is what the franchise wants. There might be better deals out there.
The best deal, the consensus seems to believe, is from Atlanta. The Hawks are seemingly positioning themselves to go after Dwight Howard in free agency and potentially build a roster around Josh Smith, Howard and (possibly) Chris Paul. Atlanta might be willing to take the risk and bring in Howard if it guarantees them two pieces of that puzzle. Howard, after all, is high school friends with Smith and is from Atlanta. The Hawks might believe they can sell him on staying.
It might be tough to get the salaries to match exactly, and it does not exactly help Orlando clear cap, but acquiring Al Horford and Jeff Teague from the Hawks for Howard might do the trick. It gives Orlando an All-Star center to begin rebuilding around and a young point guard on his rookie contract that could develop into a solid player. Both players are on manageable deals.
The real question is whether they would do this.
The other two potential landing spots for Howard appear to be Dallas or Philadelphia.
Howard has placed Dallas on his list. But the Mavericks lack the assets the Magic want. Dallas has no young players and no short-term contracts to offer Orlando. You can almost eliminate them right out.
Philadelphia has many of the young players Orlando might want. The main piece to the deal would likely be Andre Iguodala and the Magic might ask for Evan Turner in the deal. The 76ers might insist then on giving up the final year of Elton Brand's deal. And the Magic might be willing to take it on and let him walk at the end, hoping to score a high draft pick in a bad season and nearly $20 million in cap room. Securing Iguodala and Turner plus the cap room that comes with Brand's free agency, might be a path worth exploring.
Then finally, there is the one path that is unlikely: Howard stays.
I broached this over at Crossover Chronicles and find it very unlikely. But would it be so strange to see Howard try and mend the bridge and come back now that his path to Brooklyn appears blocked? Would the Magic as an organization accept that? Somehow, I don't think so. It would take Howard firing Dan Fegan, so he can place the full blame on him (something he should have done in March if he were truly "loyal").
But has anything else made sense?
Again, the Magic are nearing an end to this deal and are exploring these trade options plus many more.