When the news first broke late Thursday night that Dwight Howard had been traded to the Lakers, my initial reaction was a simple “Wow.” I was neither mad nor sad, upset or disinterested. I was simply wowed.
That’s right. Because after thinking about the possibility of Howard in purple and gold for two years and hearing never-ending rumors for the last two months, getting to the end of Dwight Howard’s “Indecision” was a lot like quitting a job that you absolutely hate: Yes, you’re thrilled that the whole ordeal is over, but in a weird way, you’re a little sad too. You start thinking things you never have before, like “Man, I’m going to miss Deb in accounting,” and “Wait, so I won’t be seeing Ric Bucher on Sportscenter at 3:45 in the morning? Damn, how am I going to fall asleep now?” That’s right, Howard is a Laker and now you’re back to a normal, Dwight-free news cycle. And admit it, you’re a little torn aren’t you? I know I am. Going to sleep without having to wade through 45 new Dwight rumors is going to be weird.
Now the trade is actually official, well, man, there are so many places to start. Why did the trade go down now? What were the Magic thinking? Does this make the Lakers the title favorites? And maybe most importantly…Yo, how freakin’ lucky are the Lakers!
I guess the best place to start is with that last one, and by saying that there is no other way to put it: This team is in fact lucky. Sure, they’re savvy yes, and seem to know how the game is played better than anyone in the league. Still, whenever you get Steve Nash and Dwight Howard in one off-season and all you give up are a couple lousy draft picks and Andrew Bynum (who is, in essence a worse version of Howard), there is really no other way to describe the whole scenario other than by using the word “luck.” Simply put, this entire Lakers off-season wasn’t just highway robbery; it was a crime so unspeakable that Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak should spend the next 15 years in prison. Can’t you just practically see Dan Gilbert typing out an angry e-mail in the dark as we speak?
Still, if you read the tea leaves all along, it was kind of clear that this was the only destination Howard would ever end up at. If anything, the question was “When would Dwight Howard become a Laker.” The question was never “if.”
The most logical destination outside of the Lakers was Dwight’s original choice of the Brooklyn Nets, but unfortunately for Nets fans, Brooklyn “Joe-Johnson’ed” their way out of the sweepstakes by trading for the Hawks guard and the $89 million left on his contract. You know, just as the Howard talks began to heat up.
For all intents and purposes, it was a dumb move at the time and remains one now, since the Hawks would’ve gladly traded Johnson pretty much any time the Nets picked up the phone and asked. You mean to tell me they couldn’t have waited a day or two to see if they could’ve worked something out with the Magic on Howard? Yes, I know they were ground down by the trade talks and Howard’s wishy-washy attitude. At the same time… he’s Dwight Freakin’ Howard, and at least in my eyes, seemed worth the late. Regardless when you add in the Johnson trade, along with the re-signing of the only asset in Brooklyn anyone could conceivably had interest in besides Deron Williams (in Brook Lopez), it was clear the Nets were out of the picture.
Personally, I also never bought the Rockets as a Howard contender either. Sure they had the picks and young players the Magic wanted, but at the end of the day, what could they really surround Dwight with that would give him any interest in staying beyond this season? He was already going 42-40 in Orlando as it was, so what was the appeal in doing the same long-term in Houston. And even though the Rockets provided plenty of flexibility in taking back some of the Magic’s bad contracts, what it comes back to what I just said: While it might help the Magic for Houston to take Chris Duhon, Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu’s terrible contracts off their hands, but aren’t those the same terrible contracts Dwight was fleeing from in the first place?
So in the end, the end game was always Dwight-to-the-Lakers, although I don’t think any of us thought it’d go down quite like this. Not right now, not under these circumstances and not by giving up so little. Only they did, and… damn!
As a matter of fact, the more I polled friends after the news hit, the more I realized the No. 1 reaction above all others was something that essentially went like this:
“The Lakers got Dwight Howard? What’d they have to give up?”
“Bynum and some draft picks? And what else?”
“That’s it? Really?”
“And they kept Pau!”
(cue my buddies all dropping the phone, as incessant high-fiving and bro-hugging breaks out in the background.)
Yes, that was seriously the way the trade went down, and in that regard you’ve got to feel kind of bad for new Orlando GM Rob Hennigan. At the end of the day, only a select few people know what the Magic actually could’ve gotten in a trade, and even less so, how much of a role Hennigan actually had in these trade discussions. But regardless of who gave the final say and what offers the Magic actually turned down, Hennigan is the fall guy, and it’s hard to conceive of the Magic doing much worse than they actually did here.
Now again, we need to drop the caveat that all the Dwight Howard rumors, were in fact just rumors. But in no particular order, here are the deals that Orlando is believed to have turned down during this process:
Brooklyn offered a package that was centered around Brook Lopez, but for the reasons I mentioned above, that trade never happened. The Magic were rumored to be interested in a package of Howard for Bynum straight up, but seemed scared off by the idea of Bynum walking away from the organization a year from now and getting nothing in return, in the same way that Howard intended to (and Shaq actually did 15 or so years ago). There were talks that Houston was in the mix with some combination of draft picks and bad contacts, an offer that we mentioned above never made total sense. And then finally, there were the conversations with Cleveland that centered around Bynum going to the Cavs, and Orlando getting all sorts of picks and cheap contracts back. None of those offers were great. None were absolutely terrible either.
Instead, the Magic settled on terrible, picking up Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington and Nikola Vucevic, a combination of players that’s so bad, that as my buddy James said, if you tried to put it through on a video game, it’d get rejected immediately. And ultimately, getting that pile of crap for Howard after all these months and all these rumors had to be the biggest kick in the teeth of all for Magic fans. It’d be like going to a dealership to trade in your Hummer, expecting to get back a nice Tahoe… and instead leaving with two Huffy’s, a scooter and a couple of Mobile gas cards. Wouldn’t you be thinking to yourself, “Wait, how’d that happen?” Well that’s how every single person who roots for the Magic has to be feeling right now.
And really, all that goes back to Orlando and goes back to their own indecision, which in the end seems just as bad as Howard’s was. From the beginning, it never really seemed like Orlando knew what they wanted. Was it Bynum straight up? Draft picks? Young players? Someone to take all the awful contracts off their books? What was it?
Regardless, it’s hard not to think Orlando got ground down by the entire process and eventually said yes to the first available trade offer that everyone could agree to. In a lot of ways, it was almost like when you’ve been single for a few years and finally meet a girl who isn’t exactly what you’re looking for… but you still say to yourself, “Well, she’s got a good job. She’s got her own place. She’s got 10 fingers and 10 toes. Meh, she’ll do.” Actually, that’s the best way I could describe this trade from the Magic’s perspective. Let’s just call it the “That’ll do” trade. Only it won’t. At all.
Now, with all of that out of the way, let’s get to the fun part and the actual basketball stuff. Look, I’m hardly an NBA expert, but it’s hard not to get excited about the Lakers possibilities, if not just call them the outright favorite right now. Not just in the West, but in the whole league.
It’s tempting, it really is. But I’m going to go ahead and pump the breaks just for a second here.
Again, I know it sounds like blasphemy to question the Lakers at this point, especially when you look at their lineup and realize that there isn’t a single team in the league that truly matches up well with them. After all, if people had enough trouble guarding Gasol and Bynum together in the post, imagine what’ll be like when you substitute Howard for Bynum and add one of the five best points guards on the planet to the mix too? LA’s size alone will give everyone fits, and the athleticism Howard brings negates some of the ability of Oklahoma City (and Miami) to blow the Lakers off the court like they did in the playoffs last year. I’m not saying the Lakers will win the title. I wouldn’t bet against them either. If that makes sense.
Still, I am going to hold off on calling them the unequivocal favorites for just one reason: If the Heat taught us one thing over the last couple years, it’s that winning isn’t guaranteed for anyone and that these things do take time. You can have all the talent in the world, but even with talent you’ve got (to steal a line from Nick Saban) go through “the process.” You’ve got to go through the process of growing together. You’ve got to go through the process of taking the lumps together. And in most all cases, you’ve got to go through the process of losing together, before you can then go through the process of winning together too. Plus, let’s not forget that Dwight Howard has a bad back and won’t be entirely healthy until December at the earliest. From there, will the Lakers have enough time to put the pieces together and make a run next spring? Time will tell, but let’s not put the cart before the horse here, ok?
As we do wrap up, I do have one more prevailing thought, but I do think it’s an important one. It doesn’t have so much to do with Howard specifically as it does just the current state of the NBA.
That thought? As much as I hated “The Decision” when it went down a few years ago, it ended up being the best thing that could’ve ever happened to the league. Trust me, I hated The Decision as much as you did. But it was nothing if not great for the league.
Look, I’ve been watching the NBA my whole life, and while it was always an interesting league, it was hard to always call it compelling. Except to be blunt, The Decision changed that. Once LeBron took his talents to South Beach, the game changed. It was no longer ok for an NBA team to be just good enough, or just try to make the playoffs. Ultimately, there was no point. In years past, maybe you could get into the playoffs, pull an upset, see someone else get upset and then sneak into the Finals. Not anymore. The top teams are too good, and if you’re not as good there’s no way you’re sneaking by anyone. That led to the current state of where things stand today: You’re either building your team to win titles or you’re bottoming out. There aren’t really any teams truly in the middle anymore.
Think about it for a second, then remember that since July 8, 2010 (the day of The Decision) the following things have happened:
• The Knicks traded for Carmelo Anthony and signed Tyson Chandler, after Amare Stoudemire signed with New York just days before The Decision. I’m not saying that makes the Knicks a contender, but they are a hell of a lot more interesting than they were five years ago. At the very least, they get an “A” for effort, even if they get an “F” for actual execution.
• The Nets made the balliest move by trading half a decade’s worth of assets for what might have essentially amounted to 40 games of Deron Williams (remember, at the time of the trade there was real talk that the entire 2012 season- Williams’ last under contract- would’ve been wiped out by a lockout). They eventually were able to re-sign Williams and trade for Johnson, and now it’s hard not to see them making the playoffs next year.
• The Oklahoma City Thunder traded Jeff Green for Kendrick Perkins. Oh, you forgot about that one, huh? And while I’m not saying the trade would or wouldn’t have gone down without The Decision (especially now that we know how good James Harden is), what I am saying is that trade really felt like a fork in the road moment for that franchise. It seemed like Oklahoma City’s brass was saying “The group we have right now has taken us as far as they can. It’s time to upgrade and tweak.” At the end of the day, you’re either getting better or you’re getting worse, and for Oklahoma City, they seemed to think it was time to get better.
• The Clippers added Chris Paul to a dynamic young team, making them an instant playoff contender, and maybe a long-term title contender too. You know, if they stop doing dumb things like signing Jamal Crawford and stuff.
And now, finally the Lakers have Steve Nash and Dwight Howard.
So what does it all mean? Does it automatically make the Lakers the favorites going forward? The co-favorites in the West? The worst thing to ever happen to Miami?
It’s impossible to say, but what I can tell you is this: The NBA was plenty interesting before this trade went down.
Now, it’s straight fascinating.
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