Who would you be willing to give up to get Dwight Howard?
Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard recently shared with NBA.com's Scott Howard-Cooper that he won't sign an extension with Orlando and will become a free agent next off-season no matter what. Sure, Howard added that he "wants to be in Orlando," but he questioned the team's overall commitment to winning and made it clear he'll consider other options if the Magic doesn't win the 2012 NBA championship.
That's unlikely to happen.
Orlando General Manager Otis Smith already tried that last year with a major roster shakeup. In mid-December, the Magic traded Rashard Lewis for Gilbert Arenas and shipped Vince Carter, Mickael Pietrus and Marcin Gortat to Phoenix for Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson and Earl Clark. But the Magic regressed, going from a 2009 NBA Finals loss to the Lakers and a 2010 Eastern Conference Finals loss to Boston to a 2011 first-round loss to Atlanta. That means the Lakers (and other NBA teams, of course) are gearing up for the possibility they could get Howard in a trade or at least once free agency hits. It's currently uncertain if the Magic would look to trade Howard now to cut their losses, or really try to assemble the necessary pieces to secure a title.
But it's a no-brainer on whether the Lakers should try to get him. The reasons are fairly obvious. He's the best center in the NBA, winning defensive player of the year for three consecutive seasons, and he finished second for league MVP behind Bulls guard Derrick Rose. Howard averaged 27 points on 63% shooting along with 15 rebounds in the postseason despite a marginal supporting cast. But what should the Lakers be willing to give up? That's the question that leaves plenty of Laker fans conflicted. Of course, everyone would love to just shed all the reserves' contracts (namely Luke Walton). But teams don't make deals under the influence or under the gun. So let's be realistic here. Below are a few scenarios to get the discussion brewing.
1. Howard for a deal involving Andrew Bynum as the centerpiece.
Sorry, Bynum supporters, but the Lakers shouldn't even think twice about this deal. That's including Jim Buss, whom Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski recently reported has stressed to the Lakers that Bynum is "untouchable in trade talks."
I've long maintained that the value the Lakers have in keeping Bynum anytime his name swirled in possible deals because of his distinguishable size advantage and that his potential would finally become unleashed. As much as Bynum turned a corner this past postseason in both his production (14.4 points on 54.3% shooting and 9.6 rebounds) and making it out of the playoffs injury-free, there are several things that make Howard a better fit. He would already replace the assets Bynum brings with a post and defensive presence, but at an even more prolific rate. There'd also rarely be any concern for Howard staying healthy. He's only missed seven games in his seven-year career, including two with a stomach virus and two to suspensions.
As much as Bynum wants to assume a bigger offensive role, that might be easier said than done. Kobe Bryant immediately retorted that Bynum will have to "fall in line," making it more likely Bynum will have to simply continue taking ownership of the Lakers' defensive identity. Should Howard join the Lakers, I don't expect Bryant is going to suddenly accept being a sidekick to Howard. But I could see him accepting involving Howard more in the offense. Plus, given Howard's skill level, the transition period between Bryant ceding the throne to Howard would prove to be a lot more seamless than it would be to Bynum.
2. Howard for a deal involving Pau Gasol as the centerpiece.
That wouldn't be a good idea even if Gasol played a huge part in the Lakers' quick playoff exit and Bynum proved to be the lone bright spot in the postseason. But this wouldn't be a smart idea from a pure team-dynamic standpoint. Having Bynum and Howard playing side by side wouldn't make much sense because both have equal attributes in size, post presence and defensive prowess. Sure, some may argue that it would create problems for defenses wondering how to stop them. But a front court flourishes best when it features two players of differing qualities.
That's why Bynum and Gasol became a great combination once Bynum accepted the fact that he needed to stop worrying about how many points he had compared with Gasol. While Gasol thrived with mid-range jumpers and efficient hook shots, Bynum took care of the easy put-backs and rebounding. Howard and Gasol would enjoy that same type of relationship, while Howard and Bynum would simply run into each other. Neither player would be well equipped to play at power forward because it would minimize the commanding inside presence at the center position. Meanwhile, allowing Gasol to solely concentrate at the power forward spot would allow him to flourish more than last year, where assuming the center position at times took away his mid-range capabilities and forced him into a back-to-the basket player.
3. What extra pieces should the Lakers be willing to give up? Any deal for Howard would likely involve more than just him simply because of salaries and the fact Orlando would want to get the most out of a deal in which it would be giving up its franchise player. The Times' Bill Plaschke suggests a deal involving Bynum and Lamar Odom for Howard and J.J. Redick. The Times' Mike Bresnahan points out a Bynum ($14.9 million) for Howard ($18.1 million) deal might entail Orlando insisting the Lakers absorb Gilbert Arenas' three-year, $62.4 million contract, meaning the Lakers would have to stack up enough contracts to make it work. Bresnahan proposed that would include Ron Artest (three years, $21 million), Steve Blake (three years, $12 million), Derek Fisher (two years, $7 million with a player option for 2012-2013 season) and Luke Walton (two years, $11.48 million).
I remain wary of both of these scenarios.
Sure, Redick is coming off a career-high 10.1 points per game and fresh off sports hernia surgery, which could assuage concerns about his 20-game absence last season and his poor play in the playoffs. But Odom isn't exactly a person that's easily replaceable given his versatility and team-first mindset. Meanwhile, accepting a deal involving Arenas means they'd have a player who shot 34% last season and would have four different players to fill voids, causing too much of a transition period for a team that's already going to go through one under Mike Brown.
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Magic center Dwight Howard during a playoff game against the Atlanta Hawks. Credit: Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images / April 28, 2011.