Trading Chris Paul, Dwight Howard?
The summer of 2012 may not be getting quite as much hype as the summer of 2010, but don’t be surprised if things start to hit a fever pitch long before the trade deadline next February. Several teams will have huge decisions to make about upcoming free agents, but none bigger than those faced by the Orlando Magic and New Orleans Hornets. Orlando’s Dwight Howard and New Orleans’ Chris Paul can become free agents next July, and the decisions their teams make about their futures could either set or devastate those teams for years to come. Debating what’s in the best interest of those players and their teams are HOOPSWORLD’s Bill Ingram and Mark Nugent.
HOOPSWORLD’s Bill Ingram:
As the New Orleans Hornets and Orlando Magic prepare for free agency, they find themselves in opposite positions regarding their would-be free agent franchise cornerstones. The Hornets have good reason to believe Chris Paul will be the foundation of their team for years to come, while the Magic are likely to be rebuilding in the wake of Dwight Howard’s departure.
Dwight Howard wants nothing more than to win a championship with the Magic; unfortunately, his priorities are in precisely that order. He wants to win a championship first, and Magic GM Otis Smith has traded himself into a corner from which it will be difficult to turn. Locked into big contracts for underachieving players, the Magic are more than likely going to be forced to trade Howard before February’s trade deadline, lest they risk losing him outright to free agency in July.
The midseason trades Smith made last season may have been the final nails in Orlando’s coffin when it comes to trying to keep Howard. First, he acquired the ridiculous contract of Gilbert Arenas while also trading away Rashard Lewis, a player who had been key to the team’s recent sustained success. Second, they brought back Hedo Turkoglu in an attempt to right an old wrong, but they were a couple of years late in that maneuver. As things stand, the Magic have over $76 million in contract dollars committed for next season with only 10 players on the roster. That’s also after losing free agent Jason Richardson. Considering the new collective bargaining agreement is likely to lower the salary cap and force it down to a much lower number, the Magic are all but dead in the water.
Unless the Magic can find someone to take Turkoglu’s or Arenas’ contract, they have no way to improve beyond hoping JJ Redick can finally live up to the hype. Considering the Magic were ousted in the first round last season even with Richardson, it seems the only way they’re going to be able to move forward is by trading Dwight and acquiring two or three significant pieces back in the deal. Howard’s certainly not going to stick around to play with Arenas, Turkoglu and Chris Duhon, the Magic’s primary long-term investments.
The situation in New Orleans couldn’t be much different from the one in Orlando. Chris Paul shares a vision with new GM Del Demps and head coach Monty Williams and together they have a plan to lead the team into the future. They have significant cap space this summer, some of which will likely go towards re-signing All-Star power forward David West, but they will also have the ability to land a number of key free agents. Considering they have a core that features the best point guard in the league and one of the best front lines, they shouldn’t have any trouble finding willing contributors.
Like Howard, Paul wants to be in New Orleans almost as much as he wants to win a championship. He feels an allegiance to the city that will weight significantly into his decision about where to sign his next contract. Even if the Hornets leave New Orleans, which is likely due to low ticket sales, Paul is in a situation where he can help build a contender from the ground up starting with three All-Star caliber pieces.
The Hornets are a team on the rise, and with the solid leadership team they’ve assembled they should challenge for home court advantage in the Western Conference next season. There aren’t many teams who are better suited to keep Chris Paul interested than the Hornets.
HOOPSWORLD’s Mark Nugent:
You don’t trade the best big man in the league; it never works out for the franchise making that trade. Why? Because history has proven dominating big men win championships. Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan, Bill Walton, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell. If a team has the best big man of the era during his prime, that team is eventually going to win a championship. Trading away a title is not something a team should ever do, better to let a championship walk away then tell your fan base you traded it away.
It’s true, the Magic are capped out over the next few years, all the more reason to keep Howard. If the Magic trade him their hands will be tied for the next several years. They will have contracts they can’t unload and they most likely won’t be good enough to make the playoffs, but they won’t be bad enough where they bottom out and end up with a high lottery pick in the draft.
In short, the Magic will end up a fringe playoff team for the next several years, which is the worst thing a franchise can do, next to trading the era’s most dominant big man. The gap between Howard and the next best center in the NBA is the biggest gap at any position in the league. It’s an advantage the Magic have every single night, no matter which team they face.
Besides, whom would the Magic trade Howard for? The most recent rumors involve packages built around injury prone players like the Los Angeles Lakers’ Andrew Bynum and the Chicago Bulls’ Joakim Noah. Neither trade is going to make the Magic a playoff team, but will make them just competitive enough they end up drafting near the end of the lottery.
The Magic are better off holding onto Howard this year and making as deep a playoff run as possible. Also, Howard hasn’t asked for a trade. In fact, he wants to win a championship in Orlando. That doesn’t sound like someone who is rushing to leave the team.
When Howard becomes a free agent after next season (assuming he opts out of his current contract) which situation has a better shot at a title than the Orlando Magic? The Magic have proven they will spend to contend, which a lot of teams won’t, they don’t have any state income tax, and it’s warm and sunny year round. How many teams and cities can compete with that?
The Lakers won’t have cap space, so as long as the Magic refuse a sign-and-trade that won’t be an option. The Knicks may or may not have cap space depending on the new CBA, but even if Howard considers signing there, who is going to get him the ball? Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony both need shots and they won’t have a true point guard on the roster come 2012. It’s pretty safe to rule out Howard leaving Orlando to go to a small market team like the Sacramento Kings or Charlotte Bobcats. That really leaves only one realistic option, the New Jersey Nets (who will be in Brooklyn starting in 2012).
The Nets will be a serious contender for Howard, assuming they can convince star point guard Deron Williams to sign an extension with them. The Magic have to compete with essentially one team for Howard’s services. It seems like that would be worth the risk to keep the best center in the league.
Furthermore, the Magic should have some options this offseason (if the lockout is ever resolved). Jameer Nelson has trade value throughout the league and he could bring back a complimentary player that could help the team. Toronto needs a point guard, perhaps they would be willing to trade power forward Amir Johnson, Utah might be interested in a point guard, as well as the Houston Rockets.
Turning over the team to Gilbert Arenas might be a risky proposition if the Magic do trade Nelson, but he may be the deciding factor in whether or not Howard stays in Orlando. Arenas has vowed to come into camp in better shape and be ready to help the Magic make a deep playoff run. If Arenas can return close to all-star form, the Magic are instantly better and should improve on the 52 wins they had last season.
If the Magic could trade Howard for another superstar who is under team control for several more years like LeBron James, Derrick Rose, or Kevin Durant, then they should definitely pull the trigger. Unfortunately for the Magic, those types of players are most likely not an option. The Magic’s options are getting fifty cents on the dollar for the best center in the world or making a playoff run that will bring added revenue to the team and may convince Howard to stay in Orlando. It seems like a pretty open and shut case.
What to do with Chris Paul is a bit more challenging. The Hornets have been struggling financially for several years as the New Orleans area has been rocked by natural disasters. These disasters have obviously hurt the team financially, so much so in fact, that the NBA now owns the team. The league’s front office has gone on record giving GM Del Demps the money to make a run at free agents and trades to improve the team (they even added Carl Landry last year at the deadline), but until new ownership is brought in, this team is unstable at best.
Recently, the Hornets have been gaining support in the community and have upped their season ticket sales, as well as adding several million dollar corporate sponsors. Most of this is tied directly to Paul. Trading Paul could be a disaster to a team in New Orleans, but losing him for nothing would be even worse. This team cannot afford to lose a superstar like Paul for nothing and hope to stay in New Orleans.
Having Paul walk away will immediate push the Hornets into the lottery and likely will have them competing for the worst record in the league. However, if the Hornets can replace him with a young star, like Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder or Eric Gordon of the Los Angeles Clippers then the Hornets may be able to avoid disaster and stay in New Orleans long-term.
The Hornets do have cap space, but how much of that they will be allowed to spend by the league office is yet to be determined. Will the Hornets be able to match a large offer for David West? The Indiana pacers have already commented they are looking to add a power forward and rumor has it West is at the top of their list. West turns 31 on August 29th and is looking at his last big payday; it’s unlikely he would take a discount to stay in New Orleans.
The same could be said of Landry. The former second round pick is looking for his first big contract and it’s doubtful he would be willing to take less money to play for the Hornets.
If New Orleans loses both Landry and West, which seems like a forgone conclusion, the Hornets will be heading to the lottery regardless of Paul’s brilliance. If the Hornets miss the playoffs, Paul is certain to head to a new team.
Plus, Paul has already asked to be traded once. During the summer of 2010, Paul was unhappy with the direction of the team and had several conversations with Demps about his future with the Hornets. While the two may have worked things out in the short-term, the rumor was Paul asked for a trade and was told no.
That sounds like a player who is ready to move on from his current team. Paul has also talked openly about playing for the New York Knicks and teaming up with Anthony and Stoudemire. While Howard doesn’t seem like a good fit in New York, Paul is the perfect table setter for two scorers of Anthony and Stoudemire’s caliber.
Paul is arguably the best point guard in the league, but the NBA has become a point guard factory. There are starting caliber point guards on some team’s benches; guys like Jeff Teague of Atlanta, C.J. Watson of Chicago and Aaron Brooks of Phoenix to name a few.
These players could be had for cheap via trade or when they become available during free agency. The key for the Hornets and the NBA should be figuring out the best way to keep the team in New Orleans. That starts with getting an owner, and it ends with not letting Chris Paul walk away from the team without getting building blocks in return.
The experts have sounded off, now it’s your turn. Should the Magic trade or keep Dwight Howard? What about the Hornets and Chris Paul? Drop your thoughts in the comments section below!