NBA @ 2: Howard Free Agency Dark Horses
Due to the lockout, the NBA’s trade deadline is not until March 15th – giving teams just over two months to reshuffle the deck. Some will gear up for a playoff run. Others will embrace their lack of immediate success and look for future considerations.
The biggest piece of course is Dwight Howard, who has requested a trade. Sources indicate the Orlando Magic will seriously consider moving him after the All-Star Break.
Because the new Collective Bargaining Agreement has taken the teeth out of sign and trades (limiting contracts to four years and lower raises), extend and trades and regular extensions, the only way for Howard to get five full years and 7.5% raises is to re-sign with his existing team.
That’s why it’s in his best interest, financially, to be on whatever team he re-signs with before the trade deadline.
If Howard’s next contract starts at $19 million, a five-year deal would pay him $109 million while a four-year falls $28 million short at $81 million.
It may be worthy gamble for the Magic to assume Howard won’t leave that money on the table.
Certainly the team would prefer to bring in pieces to try and entice Howard to stay but as quoted by Josh Robbins in the Orlando Sentinel, Magic General Manager Otis Smith admitted, “I think his leaving or going has nothing to do with Orlando . . . I think he wants a bigger market. I can’t do anything about that.”
If Smith truly believes what he told Robbins, the Magic need to get the best return available for the top center in the NBA.
While letting Howard leave without compensation would open up some cap space, it’s a negligible amount in 2012 (especially if the team intends to keep J.J Redick and Ryan Anderson).
Orlando could be looking at significant cap space in 2013 but if that’s the case, wouldn’t expiring contracts (or players with one year left) along with draft considerations be better than a zero return?
The Magic, at Howard’s request, have given his agent permission to speak with three teams – the New Jersey Nets, Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks.
While it’s certainly possible Orlando either keeps him past the deadline or even trades him to a team not on his list, the status of Brook Lopez should be clear after All-Star. It may come down to a decision between Lopez’s foot and Andrew Bynum’s knees . . .
How much would an unexpected team be willing to give up in assets to Orlando on the gamble that Howard won’t walk away from $28 million?
How significant is that last year given this probably won’t be Dwight’s final contract? How big of a say do his sponsors have in this transaction, most notably ADIDAS?
There are many questions and a number of teams that will make a run if he does hit free agency . . .
New Jersey Nets the Favorite?
The future of the Nets appears to be entirely tied to Howard’s decision. If he doesn’t come, can New Jersey keep Deron Williams who is already quite miserable in a losing situation (but then the Lopez injury was a major, major setback for the roster)?
The Nets reportedly were close to a deal during the offseason before the Magic decided to hold. Now Jersey is over the cap but can still fashion something around Lopez and pieces in February/March.
In free agency, the Nets don’t have to make any significant moves to come up with over $17 million in cap space (other than renounce free agents like Kris Humphries, Mehmet Okur, DeShawn Stevenson, Sundiata Gaines, etc.). If Howard needs $19 to start, perhaps a suitor for Jordan Farmar, Shawne Williams or Anthony Morrow can be found.
Worst case scenario, New Jersey can set restricted free agent Brook Lopez free to open in space but in theory the Nets may be able to field a team with Deron, Howard, Shawne, MarShon Brooks and a re-signed Lopez at power forward.
If that fails and Deron walks as a free agent, New Jersey could have something like $38 million in cap space this summer to spend on the next tier of free agents (Steve Nash, Raymond Felton, Andre Miller, Nick Young, Humphries and the like) but that’s a tremendous drop off in talent/age.
The advantage the Nets have is their impending move to Brooklyn, a billionaire owner and the ability to pair the two top free agents together.
Be it by trade or free agency, New Jersey should still be considered the favorite.
One additional note, Humphries can veto any midseason trade if he desires as a player re-signed with Bird Rights to a one-year deal.
Dallas Mavericks May Not Have Room for Two
Also on Howard’s list, Dallas let key pieces of their championship core go in free agency for the chance to have a crack at Dwight this summer.
The Mavs can go from a tax team this season to a spender in free agency in July. Lamar Odom’s $8.2 million is only $2.4 million guaranteed. Vince Carter’s $3.1 million has approximately $2 million in guarantees (although the exact number on Carter is unconfirmed).
It wouldn’t be easy for Dallas but they’d have to renounce the rights to Jason Terry and Jason Kidd. Next the Mavs would have to cut either Brendan Haywood or Shawn Marion with their Amnesty Clause.
All that and they’d have about the $17 million necessary to offer Deron Williams but not the $19 million for Howard.
Pieces like Rodrigue Beaubois and/or Dominique Jones may need to be traded away for the Mavericks to gain enough for a max offer to Dwight.
It’s been reported that the Mavs are pushing to make a run at both Howard and Williams but that may not be possible without multiple trades.
If Haywood was gone via amnesty, would Dallas be able to find a team willing to take on Shawn Marion’s deal without sending any salary that sticks in 2012?
The Mavs might need to be out of Odom and/or Carter’s contracts in trade instead of keeping their guaranteed portions on the books.
It’s not to say it’s impossible for Dallas to make a run at both Deron and Howard (perhaps via sign and trade) but the math suggests it’s one or the other.
Lakers with no Cap Space
The Lakers would need a sign and trade if Howard or Williams lasts until the summer. LA might be willing to go as far as offering Pau Gasol, Bynum and filler to bring in both but one may be a long-shot, let alone two.
To date, LA has been adamant they won’t consider both Gasol and Bynum just for Howard.
Dark Horses with a Chance
Boston Celtics General Manager Danny Ainge may give both Howard and Williams the hard sell in free agency. If the Nets have interest in Rajon Rondo as a replacement for Deron, Boston may be able to acquire Williams via sign and trade and still have major cap room.
If Ainge can in turn find a suitor for Brandon Bass and his last year at $4.3 million (he may opt out anyway), Boston could near the $19 million to get Howard in free agency.
Would a core of Paul Pierce, Howard and Williams sway the two stars to a market they might not have considered?
If so, the Celtics would have to renounce the rights to both Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, although in theory they can return for the minimum and/or Room Exception.
The Phoenix Suns are quietly sitting with one of the best cap positions in the league. If they use their Amnesty Clause on Josh Childress and renounce the rights to all their free agents (including Steve Nash), the Suns would be sitting on over $30 million in cap.
Hakim Warrick has just one guaranteed year left after this season (two overall). If Phoenix can find a way to flip him to a team with cap space or a trade exception, they’ve got enough to make a run at both Howard and Williams.
They’d still have Marcin Gortat, Channing Frye, Jared Dudley and Markieff Morris on the roster and while they’d certainly need a shooting guard, that’s an interesting power lineup with one of the league’s elite point guards.
The Golden State Warriors may have some cap room this summer but they would probably need to go after either Howard or Williams via trade with either Stephen Curry or Monta Ellis as bait.
Don’t sleep on the Houston Rockets who have a number of decisions to make by January 25th which will determine their cap position for the summer (options on Hasheem Thabeet, Jonny Flynn, Patrick Patterson, Chase Budinger and Terrence Williams).
The Rockets are looking to make dramatic move to improve and while Williams doesn’t seem like an obvious target with the emergence of Kyle Lowry, that doesn’t mean the team wouldn’t consider making a play for Deron (with Lowry as trade bait) and/or Howard.
Also, the Chicago Bulls and Atlanta Hawks might try get in on a Howard before the deadline and dare him to walk away from a viable situation.
Two additional possibilities for Howard or Williams could be the Portland Trail Blazers or San Antonio Spurs, who may have enough space for one max player.
All this may be moot if Howard is traded but certainly the Magic will have a lot of competition when it comes to free agency.
Other teams may have cap room like the Cleveland Cavaliers, Denver Nuggets, Charlotte Bobcats, Indiana Pacers, Minnesota Timberwolves, New Orleans Hornets, Sacramento Kings, Toronto Raptors and/or Washington Wizards but none seem like obvious fits for either star (primarily on market size and/or rebuilding status).
Blake Griffin Much More Comfortable in Second Season
Certainly the additions of Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups have changed the picture for the Los Angeles Clippers and Blake Griffin.
The last time the Clippers were at or over .500 dates all the way back to November of 2007.
LA has had a light schedule (4-2) but it picks up dramatically starting with a visit to the Portland Trail Blazers Tuesday night, a team with a perfect 5-0 record at home.
Griffin is averaging 24.7 points per game, about two higher than a year ago but what’s improved most significantly so far is his field goal percentage, jumping from 50.6% to 56.3%. He’s also scoring those extra points in 1.5 fewer minutes.
Coming into camp, Blake felt completely different than he did as a rookie.
“Oh for sure, 100%, I told a lot of people even after the first practice it’s like night and day. A year makes a huge difference,” said Griffin. “Last year, in training camp, I was trying to prove that I belong, and that I was really a part of this team, after sitting out this whole year. And this year . . . it’s much more relaxing; I can really work on the things that I really need to work on.”
In addition to adjusting to the new pieces, Griffin has worked to improve his game, especially on the other side of the ball.
“The things that I really need to concentrate on to elevate my game, is becoming a better defender, being a better leader, and being a great teammate,” said the Clipper forward.
Griffin had one of the best rookie years the league has seen. He was an All-Star, slam dunk champ and arguably the first, true franchise player the Clippers have ever had (in his prime).
Still, Blake wants more given than individual accolades given the teams won just 32 games. Now that there’s improved talent around him, Griffin and the Clippers expect to be more than just a playoff entry but a postseason force.
For Griffin, it’s not just the roster upgrades but the experience he has under his belt after going through an entire 82-game season (without missing a game).
“You know, playing the whole season you get a certain amount of confidence and you have a level of comfortability that you know, you can’t really replace,” said Blake.
After the visit to the Blazers, the Clippers will host the Miami HEAT and Los Angeles Lakers followed by the team’s first back-to-back-to-back set.
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