Now's the time of the year to play armchair quarterback. Some teams are not very interesting to play this game with, because they're so likely to stand pat, and most of their moves are likely to be cost-saving ones (Miami, Chicago), but some teams have a lot of options available and I'd like to take a look at those.
Right now, Orlando is a team that is being squeezed by its superstar. As I see it, Orlando has four options with Dwight: trade him now, trade him at the deadline, or try to sign-and-trade him after the season, or try to see if he'll change his mind at the end of the season and either sign him or let him walk.
One thing should be pretty clear when you are trading a player like Dwight: you cannot get equal value. Just wipe that idea from your mind. LeBron, Durant, Paul, and Kevin Love are all players you just aren't going to get in a package for Dwight. So, Orlando's thinking in trading Dwight needs to be future-oriented. This is why it's important to unload bad contracts, and not take back bad players or bad contracts.
1. Trade Dwight Now
The biggest reason to trade him now is that teams worry about buying a one-year rental (and Dwight and/or his agent are doing their best to encourage this thinking so that he can land with the Nets). If a team is on a flyer for a one-year rental, they want him for the whole damn year -- the longer you wait, the less those teams will offer you for Dwight. As I see it, the only teams that are willing to take this risk are the ones that think Dwight will bring them a legitimate shot at a championship, and the ones that believe they can change Dwight's mind. Furthermore, the team has to be able to make the salaries work.
Rumor currently has it that the Nets have traded 6 players and a draft pick for Joe Johnson, which all but eliminates them from completing a trade like this. But the internet is abuzz that they are trying anyway. The last rumour I heard?
Lopez, Wallace, Humphries (all S&T) and Brooks, plus multiple future draft picks, and NJ might take back Hedo.
Orlando would have to be nuts not to do this deal. Although Lopez is terrible, Humphries and Wallace are both great players, and this would be a good haul for Orlando. NJ appears to be trying to build the wrong 'big 3'. Although the idea of paying Wallace $10 million in 4 years time is scary, the truth is that $10 million is a bargain right now, and in the 4th year he won't pe overpaid anywhere near as much as Hedo is right now, and his expiring contract will have value. Furthermore, Lopez has value even though he's terrible at basketball, because he is perceived as an up-and-coming star. Orlando could (and should) re-package Lopez in another deal. In fact, this deal sounds almost too good for me to believe the rumor and if this is the deal, Orlando should make it happen (more below).
Beyond New Jerysey, Houston has a collection of young players, Dallas has a mix of expiring deals, some young players, and a trade exception. Here are some ideas:
- Jae Crowder, Shawn Marion, Rodrique Beaubois, Vince Carter, a couple of 1st round picks and Brendan Haywood for Dwight Howard and Hedo Turkoglu
I think this one works -- Dallas can take Hedo with the exception they got for Odom, and the salaries for the other players are about what Dwight makes. Marion is actually still pretty good, so you win some games with him, and trade him near the deadline to a contender if the offers are good. You can decline the option on Carter (although I am not sure if that would work timing-wise -- Dallas might have to opt-in before trading him), or use him as another expiring deal. Haywood's contract is really long but he's nowhere near as overpaid as Hedo because he's at least a productive player. Crowder has star potential and Beaubois is also pretty good. It's also possible to swap out a couple of players for picks, but remember that Dallas' picks won't be worth much. To be honest I doubt that Cuban would want to make this deal.
- Chandler Parsons, Kevin Martin, Kyle Lowry, Jon Leuer, Courtney Lee, and a future 1st-round pick for Dwight Howard and Glen Davis
Again, I think the math on this works. The problem is that aside from Lowry, all of Houston's good players make next-to-nothing, so it's very hard for Houston to take back Hedo's contract unless they gut the team (Orlando would be a fool to take back Scola's contract). This deal might appeal to Houston since it lets them keep all of this year's first-round picks. Furthermore, rumor has it that Lowry and McHale don't get along. It's hard to see how Houston can contend without signing a big free agent as well, though, so again, does Houston do a deal like this for a one-year rental?
2. Trade Dwight Later
This is only going to work with a team that knows Dwight wants to stay with them; no one wants to trade great players and/or take bad contracts to rent Dwight for two months.
To be honest, I think this is the least interesting option and I'm not going to waste a lot of time on it.
3. Sign and Trade Howard
A sign and trade has potential. Dwight would want to do it, since it makes him more money than simply walking away (roughly $30 million over 5 years more). Another team might want to do it because their cap situation makes it hard to offer the max. And Orlando might want to do it because otherwise, they get nothing if Dwight leaves.
The problem with this line of thinking is that no team wants to give up a lot of players to do a sign and trade. Why should they, when the player is an unrestricted free agent? Furthermore, the kinds of contracts that Orlando would have to take back are almost guaranteed to be bad ones.
Again, this option doesn't seem too interesting to me, and is, again, not worth spending lots of time on -- this is especially true because the landscape will look a lot different in 12 months. Who knows how rosters might change between now and then to make potential trade partners interesting?
4. Do Nothing, Then Offer Dwight the Max in Summer
This would be my preferred course of action unless there's a great trade like the rumored NJ trade that lets me get rid of Hedo. I'd keep Dwight, win lots of games, play some playoff games, and then slap down a max deal in the summer and see if Dwight is willing to walk away from $30 million. And I would make it clear that a sign and trade has to be very favorable to me, so if he wants max money and he doesn't want to play for the Magic, his agent better get to work on the phones.
Bonus New Jersey Hypothetical
Here's my dream scenario for an Orlando GM:
- Make the trade for Lopez, Humphries, Wallace, Brooks, and 3 #1s for Hedo and Dwight.
- Trade Lopez and a first round pick to Indiana for Danny Granger. I'm fairly certain Indy would love to make more room for Paul George and need a replacement for Roy Hibbert (the fact that Lopez is no replacement will just stay between us, mmmkay?). Granger is overpaid but a perceived star, so I think Indy does something like this.
- Alternatively: trade Lopez, Davis, and a #1 pick for Elton Brand. Brand is valuable to Philly as an expiring contract, but Lopez is a perceived young star.
- Alternatively: trade Lopez, Davis, and a #1 pick to Cleveland for Anderson Varajeo and Luke Walton.
- Alternatively: trade Lopez, and a #1 pick to Toronto for Jose Calderon and Amir Johnson. We trade a young perceived star and a draft pick for a decent player who is perceived as overpaid and a great point guard who is perceived as just OK, and Totonto gets to shed some salary.
Notice a trend here? I'm throwing in the #1 pick in some of these in an attempt to sweeten the deal and get rid of Davis. We should always use the Orlando pick, by the way, since other GMs will think that we're tanking and that it will be a lottery pick.
Under ideal circumstances, this can land us a starting five like:
With Amir Johnson and Jameer Nelson off the bench. Even with Humphries playing out of position at C, this team (or one of the other variants from the trades above) could easily flirt with 50 games, while essentially having 2 draft picks every year through 2017. And did I mention that Orlando drafted a couple of good-looking bigs this year? In other words, this team probably competes for a championship before Dwight does. Now that's some sweet revenge.