Five Almost-Impartial Responses to the Dwight Howard Trade

The Dwight Howard Trade DID take place. And it was strange.
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"I guess the weather's nice, but is there even a Dave and Buster's in this freaking burg?"

Image via SportsGrid.

1. Despite or because of the oh-look-a-butterfly whiplash decision-making on Howard's part that earned so much rightful scorn, everyone knew that he was done in Orlando. And because making that decision to leave is entirely his right—even though his petulant, blundering exercise of that right makes him look like the spoiled goon many people still assume all professional athletes are—the Orlando Magic and new GM Rob Hennigan faced a quandary that may not have had an acceptable solution. With every bridge finally, excruciatingly, and all too publicly burned—and with each lick of flame documented and debated and shouted and snarked about in a sports discourse that always seemed half-disgusted with the whole affair—the team’s only recourse was to trade the NBA's best center for a package that, with any luck, would expedite an immediate and total rebuilding process. Given the rejection of packages from Brooklyn and Houston—both of which looked at least reasonable, if inevitably and obviously not quite even value for the player who is, if you’re just joining us, the NBA’s best center—it seemed like due diligence was being paid by the Magic brass, and that was laudable.

2. It seemed like that, and it was laudable. Finding an NBA franchise player is not as easy as stopping at Max Contracts R Us—it’s like Brookstone, but with Joe Johnsons instead of vibrating recliners--and opening the money clip. Teams that are lucky enough to have one and unlucky enough—or nepotistically, myopically and clownishly run enough—to have to trade that player, the only truly beneficial return is either another franchise player (not likely), or sufficient picks and cap space relief to facilitate the acquisition of another franchise player through (good luck) the draft or (also not likely) free agency. Neither the Nets or Rockets could offer option A, but both did offer option B. The Rockets, who have a probable lottery pick from Toronto to add to any deal, used their amnesty clause on one of their three best players in order to ease acquiring Dwight, and for no other discernible reason; the Nets offered four unprotected first round picks and Brook Lopez, who is certainly the NBA center who would be most excited to hang out near Disneyworld, and has some other useful skills besides. If you are a GM who has to make this trade—and Hennigan, after firing the very valuable and qualified Stan Van Gundy in hopes of keeping Howard, is decidedly that GM—and you can get option B, you're as happy as you're likely to get after trading a franchise player. The Magic, in this deal, got neither A) nor B). They appear happy anyway, but of course that is how they are supposed to appear. But they have not unearthed some sort of Moneyball diamond-in-disguise in Al Harrington; Arron Afflalo is really good, and he’s also Arron Afflalo; Moe Harkless was the 15th pick of this year's draft. Those picks are all lottery-protected. So, yeah: Option C.

3. About Option C, then: that would be a deal that looks, smells, and feels like Option B, at least until closer inspection. Orlando not receive any of the best players to relocate in a four-way deal—Howard went to Los Angeles, Andrew Bynum to Philadelphia, and Andre Iguodala to Denver; what’s left went to Orlando. Neither, inevitably, will any of the players headed to Orlando fill the Howard-sized void; also, the three first round picks Orlando is receiving, one from each of the other (playoff-bound) teams, are all lottery-protected. There is a reason, an obvious one that you already know, why playoff teams are willing to trade their first-round picks; it is also the reason why people bitterly goofed on Daryl Morey on Thursday night for acquiring so many meh-to-sub-meh-grade picks. Anyone who could’ve explained how the deal the Magic just accepted, months before the trade deadline, topped the four unprotected first-rounders or cap-relief-and-a-lottery-pick has been free to do so since Adrian Wojnarowski broke the news on the deal. It hasn’t happened yet.

4. An NBA neutral doesn’t have to hate the Los Angeles Lakers to hate this deal. Still, it doesn’t hurt. Philadelphia and Denver both did well in this trade, but the Lakers got the deal that the Lakers always seem to get. From the franchise’s acquisitions of Wilt, Kareem and Shaq to the insane deal that allowed the Lakers to get Magic and Worthy in consecutive drafts, the Lakers seem far more adept at low-risk superstar-directed coups than any other NBA franchise. To give them credit for this deal is to bestow criminal mastermind status on a burglar who walks through an unlocked front door and emerges with a U-Haul full of diamonds and Basquiats. It’s unfair, as a neutral fan or a non-neutral one, to ask NBA teams to collude against the Lakers. It does not seem unfair to wonder why other franchises—or just the Magic, who have now done this twice—persist in handing the Lakers generation-defining centers every decade or so. The Thunder and Spurs, different though they are in most every way, reached their current positions through hard, smart work. They are now watching the Lakers float on past them in a gold and purple balloon, with David Stern watching impassively and noting that, hey, it works under the cap.

5. Since 1979, nine teams have won the NBA title; even if OKC wins the title as we all assume they eventually will, that will make an even ten in three-plus decades. Fans and pundits routinely chide/blast owners for not spending money, in the understanding that the only legitimate reason to own a sports team is to bring that team’s fans a championship; it sure as hell shouldn't be to make money, because lord knows a billionaire can and probably should find better ways to do that, although the NBA’s ruling billionaires seem to disagree mightily on that. But given all the talk of competitive balance, and given the newly arrogated and not-yet-dusty veto power the commissioner recently used so strangely in the name of fair play, how are non-aligned fans supposed to feel about this deal? What are we supposed to believe, besides that the deck is stacked or the dice are loaded or some other cliche of your choice related to gambling paraphernalia? It is enough to make a conspiracy theorist out of even reasonable fans. Not because there’s a conspiracy, of course. There isn’t. But just because it’s tough to believe that this sort of thing could keep happening—so egregiously and so predictably and with the same beneficiaries—without one.


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Comments

I dont know if I agree with the haves/ have nots argument when we're talking sports' owners. these guys are billionaires. All of them. The lakers are in a large market and that does give them some advantage over other teams. But small market teams are still run by rich, rich rich people. Then there's the fact that many owners attempt and succeed in having the public pay for their stadiums. How do we know that the Lakers are richer than the other owners are. Certainly the lakers make more money off of basketball than most other teams do. but Jerry Buss doesn't have other businesses to run besides the lakers. I think part of reason for the Laker's success has to do with this fact. the lakers are extra motivated to be competitive and win because they dont have any thing else. the Lakers are family run and it means more to them than it does to any one else. The other owners pushed hard for an added luxury tax to punish and possibly stop the lakers free-spending ways. The lakers abided by the rules for one season before saying the hell with it and trying to win their old-fashion way, with money. It is what it is. At some point the other owners may get a hard cap and if so things may change. For all the talk about the players vs. the owners the owners are really battling each other.
http://4hoopsheads.com/2012/08/10/lakers-stay-winning/

Oh please with the meritocracy bullshit.

Howard went where he had the best chance of winning a title.

And since he's only signing for one year, EVERY team in the league will be in the hunt for him come free agency after next season.

But as I just wrote, Howard went to the place that offered him the best possibility at winning a title next year.

You can't say that about the Knicks who outside of the bullshit Linnsanity nonsense were so dysfunctional they fired the coach who was supposed to lead them to the title. Smart move that.

You can't say that about the Nets who...fuck it it's the NETS for fuck's sake.

Can't say that about Denver.

Can't say that about Houston.

Is it the Lakers fault they were in position to draft the best player of the past 15 years in Kobe?

Nope.

Is it the Lakers fault they had the greatest GM in NBA history in Jerry West?

Nope.

So the rest of the league and the associated fans need to take off the fanboy goggles, have mommy change their diapers and then help them put on some big boy pants, man the fuck up and shut the fuck up.

It's worth mentioning that the Lakers did not draft Kobe, but rather received his draft rights in exchange for Vlade Divac. Also, it has been some time since Jerry West, who worked no similar title or superstar magic in Memphis, held the title of Lakers GM. And no one has ever accused Mitch Kupchak of greatness. I think the author's point had more to do with Orlando, and their failure to act in their own self interest, than in the role of Dwight or the Lakers. Finally, could we cool it with the needlessly aggressive football coach speak? Just trying to converse the fuck up here.

"The Thunder and Spurs, different though they are in most every way, reached their current positions through hard, smart work."
Or, to put it another way, the Spurs won two lotteries & the city of Seattle got kicked in the neck. Also if Portland were smart enough to not draft Sam Bowie & LaRue Martin, OKC would be far from the squee-worthy model franchise the Internet Basketball Community smarks seem to think it is.
But your general point is, I think, well made. It's almost--almost--funny how the myth of meritocracy is so ingrained, so much so that we can be nearly surprised when the haves keep having, in sports as it is in life, the same yesterday, and today, and forever.