The NBA keeps chirping about the positives, negatives or the 'never gonna happens' of trading Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard. As it stands, the Rockets have put out public signals they'd like to deal the former defensive player of the year, Howard has made clear he hasn't asked for a trade and NBA teams have shown little interest.
Turns out trading an NBA star earning $22 million is more difficult than it sounds when you're kicking back Lone Stars and jawing with friends in a lawn chair. The Dream Shake debated the subject on our irregular podcast this past week. You should of course listen to it.
My personal take remains the impossible: Convince Dwight Howard to opt in to the final year of his contract, a player option valued at $23 million. Howard gets paid handsomely, it improves Houston's ability to recruit a top free agent, gives Houston another season to contend and leaves the door open for one more final big deal.
That being said. Let's talk about some Dwight Howard trades. I culled through The Dream Shake comments and tweets to @DreamShakeSBN pulled some of the more realistic trade proposals I found and now I'm handing out some grades. The grade is dependent on the likelihood it happens and how it benefits both teams. For example, a Twitter user pointed out that the ESPN Trade Machine approves a one-for-one swap of Dwight Howard and LeBron James. That trade gets a grade of F, never going to happen.
Let's rate some trades --
L.A. Clippers -- From David Polenga
This trade requires the L.A. Clippers to admit their chemistry is irreparably broken and acknowledge they are making a single season run at a title and then breaking up their team. DeAndre Jordan is in his prime, free throw shooting aside, and trading him forces GM-coach Doc Rivers to admit he was wrong to emoji his way to DeAndre's Houston home and sign the new max contract. Trevor Ariza is a vast improvement for the Clippers over beleaguered forward Lance Stephenson, while Stephenson has increased cap flexibility, but this is the only part of the deal that makes sense.
Phoenix Suns -- From @doriangibson84
This trade is fraught with angles. It makes sense for Houston because it gets something in return for Dwight Howard, who has signaled he will opt out, and Terrence Jones, who is restricted free agent-to be and likely to leave Houston. It makes sense for Phoenix because they put themselves in a clear salary cap bind with long term deals to Tyson Chandler and Markieff Morris and this deal would create $25 million in cap space this offseason for Phoenix. Oh, also... they need to jettison Morris who recently choked a teammate on the bench.
This deal doesn't make sense for Houston. For starters, Morris just choked a teammate on the bench. Assault aside, there isn't any noticeable improved value on-court for Houston. Annnnnnd... Chandler's deal became one of the worst contracts in the league the second LaMarcus Aldridge went to San Antonio. So, this deal makes perfect sense for Phoenix, but little sense for Houston.
Orlando Magic -- From chuckthewagon
The Magic say no to this deal. Not just because they'd have to welcome Dwight Howard back to Orlando, but because Tobias Harris and Evan Fournier still carry value. Harris' contract decreases in cost each season and the forward has been used less than ever before this season. There's still value and undiscovered potential there, perhaps there's just not enough ball in Orlando to go around and promote positive player development. Fournier has shown sparks each of the last two seasons and Orlando is either thinking of signing him again or dealing him to someone with that in mind (as his value is higher if that's the case). He's gonna get paid this offseason by someone.
Morey knows value when he sees it and might make the presumption Harris is a new version of Kyle Lowry or Omer Asik, an underutilized player with talent. Channing Frye is too old to be the stretch four the Rockets have been yearning for, but the sticking point is his contract. At worst its $8 million a year until he's 35 (!) at best it isn't any worse than Patrick Beverley or Corey Brewer's.
At the end of the day, this is an example of a realistic deal the Rockets would make to get what they can for Howard and Jones. They've got to take back a bad contract (Frye) and trade outgoing cap relief for another team's lesser expiring contract (Fournier).
Toronto Raptors -- From David Polenga
I don't hate this deal for the Rockets in the long run. Carroll is a defensive stopper sidelined with an injury, but set for a return after the all star break, and Jonas Valanciunas is young big man who's got four to five years of legit NBA service in him. And, oh yea, the Lithuanian big man's PER is currently better than Dwight's -- granted that's in ten less minutes a game.
Anyone would rather have Howard for a playoff series, but this is a steep rental price for Toronto to pay with uncertainty surrounding Dwight's next deal. Toronto might like this if they know they get Howard for three more years and do a trade like this under the pressure of sweetening the pot for DeMar DeRozan to stay.
Downside to this deal if you're Daryl Morey is it forces Houston to stomach $154 million in salary commitments: $60 million to Carroll, $30 million to Cory Joseph and a yet-to-start $64 million contract to Valanciunas.
This trade ranks ahead of the Magic deal because you'd rather go forward with Valanciunas and Carroll than with Harris and Frye.
Boston Celtics -- From Dorian Gibson
There's several variants on this deal. It ultimately has Dwight Howard and other elements going to Boston in exchange for David Lee and other elements. Boston has three first round draft picks this year and five second round picks. This treasure chest includes the seemingly untouchable Brooklyn Nets first round draft pick, which is currently the third pick in the draft if ping pong balls are ignored.
The problems preventing a deal exist on both sides. Houston wants a boatload of draft picks and Boston didn't get all those draft picks because they undervalue the picks (that was Brooklyn). The value of a first round draft pick is the highest it has ever been, so don't expect Morey to rob Celtics GM Danny Ainge.
Boston, like Houston, wouldn't know Dwight's intentions after this season and they're too smart to hand Howard the five year $170 million deal maximum contract he'd be eligible for with Bird rights. Two years of Dwight and we might be in business for some draft picks, but less than half a season doesn't seem to be enough and also doesn't far enough to make the Celtics potential playoff contenders against the Cavaliers and Raptors.
This being said, the Celtics have the most assets the Rockets desire and they've been rightly identified by observers as the most likely trade partners for the Rockets.
Grade: B (with two first round draft picks OR one first round and two second round picks)
Cleveland Cavaliers -- From @BKDeadHead
Uh... This makes a ton of sense for the Rockets and some sense for the Cavaliers. I mean it would never happen, but hear me out. The Rockets could land an all star caliber player already signed to a maximum contract, which will be a bargain following the coming eight digit rise in the salary cap following a new collective bargaining agreement. Timofey Mozgov can be allowed to walk after the season giving the Rockets a cumulative $10.8 million in cap relief and leaving Clint Capela to start.
If Houston is going to lose Dwight Howard no matter what, and knows it, acquiring Kevin Love would be a pretty sweet acquisition.
Cleveland would do this to shore up their interior defense and garner future salary cap tax relief. Tristan Thompson is out-performing Mozgov but still posts a PER of only 15.32, which ranks 39th among NBA centers. Love continues to be a shaky fit on the Cavs and an NBA debate continues of where to place the blame, Love's teammates, Love's coaches or on Love.
This trade requires an available trade exemption as Cleveland would increase their short term cap burden. But the deal would be predicated on the thought that after Dwight Howard opts out of his contract the Cavs would acquire a net $18 million in salary cap relief.
Cleveland wouldn't do this deal because it bumps up the tax they have to pay in the short term and it's unlikely they want to roil the team's chemistry any further than they already have by adding Dwight Howard during a title race. There's also a level of duplicity from adding Trevor Ariza for multiple years to J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert.