Can Brooklyn Still Get Dwight Howard?
Now that Joe Johnson is, for the time being, one of literally two Brooklyn Nets under contract (MarShon Brooks is the other one), we can start looking at what the future of this franchise holds.
For starters, we know that Johnson, Brooks, and the soon-to-be-re-signed Gerald Wallace will take up about $31 million of a $58 million salary cap next season, and if Deron Williams decides to re-sign that should add another $19-20 million to that number. Four guys, $50 million, and that will rise each of the next four seasons because all four have deals that go up in value each new year. Whatever else they do with the 8-11 roster spots they’ll need to fill every season, $50 million for four guys is a significant chunk of change, especially when one of them (Brooks) is still on a rookie contract.
The big question is what the Joe Johnson trade does in terms of Brooklyn acquiring Dwight Howard, who has said in pretty certain terms that the Nets are the only team he really wants to play for.
The short answer is that trading for Howard is still technically possible, but it’s not going to be easy.
The long answer is significantly more complicated, and it starts with the fact that sources say Brooklyn threw out the idea of trading Lopez, Brooks, and picks for Howard, just like they did at the trade deadline last spring, but Orlando declined. So far starters, the assets Brooklyn has to offer, Orlando doesn’t particularly want right now.
For that trade to happen, Lopez would have to agree to a sign-and-trade anyway, and while he’s said in the past he wouldn’t mind playing for Orlando, there’s no guarantee he’d agree to such a deal. Even if he did, would Orlando be interested in giving Lopez the same max deal Roy Hibbert got in Portland, just so they could rid themselves of Howard?
Plus, there are other options for Orlando; Houston would send Kyle Lowry, Luis Scola, and heaven knows how many other young players and/or draft picks for Howard, while the L.A. Clippers reportedly would happily build an offer around DeAndre Jordan and Eric Bledsoe since the acquisition of Howard might be the only way to keep Chris Paul in Hollywood. And who knows if the Lakers will budge and offer up Andrew Bynum? Any of those deals might be considered preferable to what Brooklyn is currently throwing out there.
The Nets could try to get a third team involved to get Orlando the kind of pieces they’re looking for to rebuild, but how many teams are dying to have Lopez at max dollars right now? At the same time, how many teams are dying to help Brooklyn build a super team like the one that just won the NBA championship?
Even if the Nets did get Howard, that would put them to $70 million in guaranteed salaries for only five players—a number that just so happens to also be the luxury tax threshold. Assuming the rest of the team is draft picks and minimum salaries for the next half decade, that still puts Brooklyn way over the luxury tax threshold for the foreseeable future, and under the current CBA that could start to get very expensive.
There are very stiff financial penalties for teams that continually finish the year over that $70 million threshold, and while Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov has extremely deep pockets, that extra cash could start to add up pretty quickly. Four years from now, the organization could be cutting a luxury tax check for $50-100 million on top of what would be an $80-90 million payroll.
The financial fallout from the move to Brooklyn has been overwhelmingly positive—even more than originally projected—and that means there’s a good chance this organization could spend the way the Lakers and Knicks do. But at the end of the day, the Nets still have to find a deal that works for Orlando, and apparently what they’re putting out there right now just isn’t good enough.
Howard is from Atlanta and is very good friends with Josh Smith. That’s a possibility now, especially now that they’ve got the cap space to potentially make a run at Chris Paul should he hit free agency a year from now. Or maybe a trade to L.A. keeps Paul in a Clippers uniform, because those two with Blake Griffin would be undeniably nasty.
There are options here for Howard, but Brooklyn seems like the least of them at present. The Nets haven’t ended their pursuit of Dwight just yet, despite the numbers saying it looks impossible financially.
It’s not impossible, just improbable, and those odds are just good enough for Brooklyn to keep at it.