Healthy Skepticism: Why I’m Not Convinced Dwight Howard Is Coming To Brooklyn

Dwight Howard

The Dwight Howard chase is seemingly coming closer and closer to a resolution. ESPN and Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski have both reported that the deal is “close,” with as many as four teams and 14 players involved in facilitating Dwight Howard’s move to Kings County.

But even as talks ramp up, and details emerge, and finalities appear close, I remain skeptical. And you should, too.

The trade is enormous.

We’ve seen this before. A trade balloons from 5 players, to 8, to 10, to 14, to 15. Balloons from two teams, to three, to four. Pulling off a move of that volume — especially with a franchise player like Dwight Howard involved — is a risky, delicate balance. Everyone has to sign off. Everyone must be happy with their part. Only two trades in NBA history even involved 13 players. Only four times in NBA history have more than 10 players exchanged uniforms.

It’s not easy to pull off. As we saw last year with Carmelo Anthony, these things rely on a teetering group of fickle players, owners, and general managers. If Kris Humphries and Cleveland can’t agree on a deal, it’s over. If Brook Lopez signs an offer sheet anywhere else, it’s over. If one player fails a physical, it’s over.

On paper, it looks possible. In practice, it’s tricky. There’s a reason a trade this big has never been executed.

The Nets don’t have the best offer.

The biggest champions of the deal — Nets fans, and Dwight Howard — point to what they believe is the biggest factor in Dwight’s decision: He’s requested a trade to Brooklyn. He wants to go to Brooklyn. He’ll bully his way there, and damnit, he’ll end up there by hook or by crook!

But that’s just not true.

If the Magic chose to trade Dwight Howard to, say, the Los Angeles Lakers tomorrow, that would be the end of it for Brooklyn. Andrew Bynum is a far more attractive piece than the platter the Nets are currently offering — don’t be fooled by the “picks,” none would be in the lottery. By dangling expiring players Josh McRoberts and Christian Eyenga, the Lakers could take on Howard and either Glen Davis or Jason Richardson, both players the Magic are trying to shed. Hell, if they take on Metta World Peace — who has a player option for 2013-14 but expires before Baby or Richardson — the Lakers could even take on both.

The Lakers aren’t the only players in this race, either. Atlanta — Howard’s hometown — could put together an equally impressive package around Al Horford. The Rockets have a plethora of picks and prospects they could put towards a deal, and the cap space to add in. Even a darkhorse like Chicago could get in on the action.

Throughout the season, Orlando has shown a stubborn refusal in the Nets’ offer. They don’t like Brook Lopez. They don’t like MarShon Brooks (who, in this latest iteration, is headed to Los Angeles to join the Clippers). And yet, something has changed in the last week? Color me unconvinced.

Brook Lopez is a very good piece. Orlando fans and NBA fans alike will tell you differently, but the fact remains that he’s an excellent offensive player, an average defensive player, and an average rebounder. He’s probably better than his last two years would tell you, given his bout with mononucleosis and broken foot. He’s just not Bynum’s equal. If the Nets plan on signing him to the max — as latest reports would indicate — the Magic are better off with Bynum.

Orlando won’t do Dwight Howard any favors.

To trade Howard to his preferred destination — Brooklyn — the Magic would be doing Howard a favor. They’d sacrifice their own best interest to appease Howard. They don’t have to trade him to Brooklyn, or anywhere. They’re free to do whatever they choose. They have no incentive to give Howard what he wants. Given that Howard’s spent the better part of a year doing this both to Orlando and his PR image, I don’t think I have to explain further why that’s not in their plans.

The Nets don’t have leverage.

And if anyone trades for Dwight Howard that’s not Brooklyn? So what! He’ll opt out in a year and join forces with Deron Williams anyway! That’s been his plan all along, and he’ll make it there, no matter what, right?

Wrong. If anyone else trades for Dwight Howard, the Nets aren’t getting him next year unless he accepts the veteran’s minimum, and frankly, if he does that, he’d be simultaneously Brooklyn’s biggest hero and idiot.

Between Deron Williams (18.705 million), Joe Johnson (21.467 million), and Gerald Wallace (somewhere in the $10 million range, not firm), the Nets have $50 million tied up in just three players. That’s not including the deal Brook Lopez will get (presumably around $9-12 million), the mini-mid level for Mirza Teletovic (around $3.3 million in year 2), and whoever else the Nets sign to fill their roster (Kris Humphries, Gerald Green, Marcus Camby, et al).

The Nets would have to trade every player they have besides Williams and Johnson, without taking salary back, to make space for Howard. That’s just not going to happen. And the team that trades for Howard can give him the same incentive to stay as the Nets had with Deron Williams: one extra year, $25 extra million. That’s a lot of reasons not to leave.

I’m not saying that a trade for Dwight Howard is impossible. I’m not saying it’s a guarantee that it won’t happen ten seconds after I post this article. What I am saying is, despite all the rumors we’ve heard today and in the past 12 months, the Orlando Magic’s incentive to deal with the Brooklyn Nets goes little beyond leverage. Keep that in mind when the latest rumor drops.