Uh oh, here we go again. New Jersey Nets fans were subjected to the Carmelo Anthony trade drama recently and that can easily be identified as a bummer. However, the mood quickly changed and Nets fans are basking in the glory that is the Deron Williams trade. So, for the sake of improving the Nets, let's get back on that roller coaster of emotion and hypothesize about the future, one that sees Dwight Howard in a Nets uniform.
The addition of Howard would be a dream for the Nets organization and its fans and it would basically solidify Williams signing an extension with the team. The duo has been rumored to want to play together, but that's going to be forever unsubstantiated for obvious tampering charges, and Howard has been unhappy with the Orlando Magic to varying degrees this season that have sparked rumors he would opt-out after the 2011-12 season. These are all rumors and speculation though. Of course, there were rumors of Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire (and subsequently, Chris Paul) wanting to form a super collaboration on the court with the New York Knicks and that came to fruition, so... how can it happen with the Nets?
Trade Brook Lopez.
There's certainly going to be Lopez supporters that say the team shouldn't do it because he hasn't reached his potential yet and there's some validity in that. However, with the possibility of losing Williams after the 2011-12 season when he can opt out of his contract (he has a player option in 2012-13 for $17,779,457; an option that may be hard to deny with the new Collective Bargaining Agreement), there is no time for waiting. As head coach Avery Johnson said back in November, Lopez isn't as good as Howard, which is obvious, especially in light of Lopez's struggles this season with grabbing rebounds (5.8 RPG). However, there is no denying that Lopez is talented (19.3 PPG; 1.4 BPG; 18.2 PER) and still young (22-years-old) possessing some more upside to his game. But still, he's not Dwight Howard.
The current CBA expires at the end of June with the new CBA and its elements still up in the air, as Williams' decision to stay with the Nets past 2012. Howard, who is eligible to sign an extension now will have to do so before June 30th to stay within the rules of the current CBA, much like the Anthony situation. If he signed the current extension deal with the Magic, it would be for two more years and $42.6 million that would see him signed through the 2014-15 season. Amazingly, he would only be 29-years-old at the end of that contract and only hitting the end of his prime.
As with the Anthony situation, it was important for the Nets to get that commitment to sign an extension within the trade parameters in order to make a deal. The same would apply here for Howard should the Nets go that route. However, it would need to happen before June 30th and, of course, Howard would need to agree to signing an extension. How perfect then is the risk of trading for Williams? Was it not for this exact purpose to entice another superstar to join him? Yes, Howard would indeed sign the extension and, subsequently, Williams would too. Lopez alone wouldn't convince Williams to stay, but the opportunity to play with Howard indubitably would.
The NBA trade deadline has come and gone in a furious medley of shocking and not-so-shocking trades, but there is an appropriate date for a Howard trade to happen - June 23rd, the day of the NBA Draft, which will be held in Newark, New Jersey. Yes, the home court of the New Jersey Nets and a full week before the end of the current CBA.
Next season, Howard will make $17.9 million, so what package matches up? Obviously, Lopez ($3.1 million) will need to be in the trade to have the Magic interested. He will be a restricted free agent after 2012 and will be a lot easier to sign long-term since the Magic would have the right to match any offer another team signs Lopez to. Howard controls his destiny and can just leave after 2012. Receiving a young center with a high talent level versus nothing? The Magic would certainly choose the former.
Obviously, more players on the Nets' part would be needed in order to match salaries and in order to do that Travis Outlaw ($7.0 million) would need to be part of the package. Surely, considering how he hasn't done as well as Nets fans hoped, his departure will leave no one crying. That said, the Magic will need to be appeased somehow in order to take that albatross of a contract. Enter fan favorite, Anthony Morrow ($4.0 million). Many would hate to see the sharpshooter and the NBA's all-time leading three-point shooter go, but this could be the slight overpayment to get the deal done. In total, that would be $14.1 million going back to the Magic, but with trade exceptions and various NBA trading rules I won't get into here, the trade works. For reference, using this year's salaries that in total keeps about the same difference, the trade works.
The Nets will also have about $18.6 million coming off the books after this season, as well as multiple draft picks, so the flexibility they have will surely be able to accommodate any trade for Howard. It's also quite possible they can keep Morrow, which would make many Nets fans happy.
The stated goal for the Nets is to win a championship within five years. Can that happen with a Williams/Howard combo? There's obviously no guarantee, but it's as great a foundation to build upon as any other in the NBA. Another goal was to win the hearts of basketball fans across the world, but perhaps more importantly, in the New York metro area. That would be a tangible goal if the Nets act before June 30th.
Eyes on the prize.