Dwight Howard’s Next Move
Is Orlando too Smallville for Superman?
by DJ Dunson
For weeks, NBA fans expected to see Chris Paul handling the rock for Hollywood’s team on Christmas Day. But, until Wednesday night, rational-thinking people expected him to be in Laker purple and yellow instead of Clipper blue and red. In an odd turn of events that was aided by the meddling of de facto Hornets owner/NBA Commissioner David Stern, Paul has taken the bizarro-Magic Johnson route to the Los Angeles Clippers.
For decades the Clippers and Lakers have operated as alternate universes within the same arena. The Lakers are steeped in Championships and rival the Yankees and Celtics as the winningest franchises in professional sports. The Clippers rival the dinosaurs in terms of bad luck.
The ramifications of the Chris Paul trade to the Clippers will be felt across the NBA landscape, beyond this season. Obviously, part of that can be attributed to Paul agreeing to opt-in to the final year of his deal for the ’12-13 season. But a certain All-Star point guard in New Jersey may be watching CP3′s new teammates and patiently awaiting next summer’s free agency period. If Mikhail Prokhorov is unable to pair point guard Deron Williams with Dwight Howard, the Nets may move to Brooklyn with zero superstar talent.
But on the NBA movement chessboard, Dwight is the king. According to sources, Howard’s initially stated list of trade destinations included the Lakers, Knicks, Nets and Mavericks. It appeared that the Dwight Howard Sweepstakes were temporarily suspended after the Magic pulled Howard off the trade block. Unless William Shatner and Travelocity can swing a deal by Christmas Day, Howard’s hostage situation may drag on for a while.
But after witnessing Paul’s trade to the Clippers and the surrounding hoopla over Staples Center becoming “Lob City,” Howard reiterated that his trade request was still open. It’s understandable that Howard would want out of Orlando. Even Clark Kent had to leave Smallville for Metropolis to achieve his destiny.
So where is Howard’s Metropolis?
If Howard were truly interested in winning in the short and long-term, there are only two logical options. The Lakers are a viable contender but the Magic would likely seek Bynum and Gasol in exchange for their All-World center. That would leave Howard in L.A. with a stripped-down Laker squad and an aging Kobe Bryant. The Knicks don’t have the pieces to trade for Howard or the cap space to sign him outright next summer and the Nets would remain miles behind the Heat and Bulls among the Eastern Conference’s elite.
The first option has been discussed since last season when the Chicago Bulls earned with the NBA’s best record. They also have a foundation built on defense after hiring defensive wizard Tom Thibodeau away from the Celtics bench. Unfortunately, undersized power forward Carlos Boozer was unable to contribute low-post scoring against the taller and more athletic Chris Bosh.
For the mere price of Joakim Noah and Luol Deng, the Chicago Bulls could potentially add the most physically imposing post presence in the League today with the reigning MVP, a low post scorer (Boozer), a deep bench and a legit scoring 2-guard with championship experience (Rip Hamilton) to a great defensive unit. But the Bulls have wavered on throwing Noah into a deal for Howard and likely haven’t changed their position.
But the Clippers are in excellent shape to sign Howard outright once he’s a free agent. While Paul throwing lobs to Blake Griffin will return fond memories of his historic ’07-08 season with Tyson Chandler in New Orleans, the Clippers aren’t contenders yet. Worst of all, they gave up Minnesota’s ’12 lottery pick and Eric Gordon. DeAndre Jordan’s name has gotten a lot of run in the past three days. His combination of size and athleticism is second to only two centers in this league. One is Washington’s Javale McGee. The other is Superman.
Last season, McGee averaged 10 points, 8 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game last season. Jordan averaged 7/7/1.8. Howard averaged 23/14/2.4. DeAndre Jordan is an average center but not a difference maker. With Jordan, the Clippers may continue to lead the NBA in alley-oops but they are far from becoming contenders in June.
If the Los Angeles Clippers are more committed to replacing the Lakers as the best team in Staples Center as opposed to the most exciting, they’d go through the motions of the upcoming season and then spend the summer of 2012 courting Dwight Howard. Last month, Chris Broussard claimed that sources within the Clippers organization were more interested in acquiring Howard than Paul.
It may sound more farfetched than Donald Sterling offering Air Bud a mid-level exception, but thanks to Blake Griffin’s rookie contract, the Clippers can afford a third superstar. Why not add Dwight Howard to the mix? In the past, Paul and Howard intimated at playing together in Orlando and the Clippers have plenty of cap flexibility. They’ll likely make a few minor acquisitions before Christmas Day but currently the Clippers have $13 million in cap room. They also have $30 million in expiring contracts. That’s more than enough to sign Howard for the $20 million that he will command.
Furthermore, the Clippers combine three of Howard’s most desirable elements. Not only does it allow Howard and Paul to join forces for the first time since the Beijing Olympics but in a major media market. Lastly, the Clippers would allow Howard to diverge from the footsteps of another gregarious Orlando seven-footer, also known as Superman, who jumped on the first private jet to Los Angeles.
Kobe, Gasol, Bynum, Metta World Peace, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and Dwight Howard battling for supremacy in the same city is one thing. Having them occupy the same arena would be the stuff of legend. Imagine all seven games of the 2013 Western Conference Finals being played in the same arena for the first time (and yes it would go seven games).
Dwight and Kobe were never meant to be Lakers teammates. They were destined to be rivals in the City of Angels. Kobe baptized Dwight Howard during his rookie year courtesy of a rude posterization and defeated Howard’s Magic in the ’09 NBA Finals. Superman 2.0 needs a Lex Luthor and Kobe Bryant has battled with a Man of Steel before. If there was ever a player that embraced the villain role so unflinchingly, it was Kobe.
If Howard could leap tall buildings in a single bound, Blake Griffin can likely clear the Sears Tower. In what is essentially, his second season, Griffin has only tapped his potential. More importantly, Griffin and Howard won’t clog the lane because Griffin has an ability to post-up and score facing the basket. The Clippers appear to finally be turning the corner in year two of the post-Elgin Baylor era. After stealing the Chris Paul from under the Lakers’ noses in a blockbuster trade, the Clips have become the NBA’s marquee team in Hollywood.
There’s more work to be done in Los Angeles, and Dwight Howard and the Clippers have a decision to make. They can settle for good enough. Or, join the NBA’s elite.