NBA teams are starting to open their facility doors to players, having conversations with agents and formulating plans for their respective rosters.
What a great time for the Hawks to push for the one move they could make that would grab everybody’s attention, fill Philips Arena and possibly move them closer to title contention: Trade for Dwight Howard.
I realize this is a long shot. But Howard almost certainly is going to be traded some time over the next several months. He can opt out of his contract after this season and there’s no indication that he wants to stay in Orlando.
Howard never has stated that he wants to come back home to Atlanta to play center for the Hawks. But let’s put the team’s potential sales pitch to him on hold for just a minute.
Here’s the plan, after my high-level talks with Michael “Ice Man” Cunningham: Tell the Magic they can have any two players they want.
At some point, Orlando will come to the realization that it can’t convince Howard to stay so management will go looking for the best deal. I can’t believe any other team in the league could offer as valuable a trade package as the Hawks can. Tell the Magic that they can take Joe Johnson and Al Horford. Or Joe Johnson and Josh Smith. Or Al Horford and Josh Smith.
Regardless of which two players Orlando chooses, the Hawks would have the most dominant center in the game and the major marketing piece the franchise needs in this city. Their starting two pieces toward building an NBA title contender: Howard and Johnson (I can see the commercials now), Howard and Horford or Howard and Smith (reuniting the pre-school teammates).
Now, about Howard. There are ramifications of the new collective bargaining agreement that I freely (and proudly) admit ignorance about. I’m aware that impending free agents don’t quite have the leverage they used to (see: Carmelo Anthony). Therefore, Howard might prefer just opting out of his contract, hitting the open market and getting a longer, more lucrative deal as a free agent than he could in some sort of extend-and-trade situation.
But the Hawks have ammunition if they want to pitch Howard:
• 1.) Atlanta is home. His parents, family and friends can watch him play.
• 2.) The cap space cleared by two high-profile players leaving would give the Hawks the ability to pursue other players in trade and free agency. Howard’s presence also immediately makes Atlanta a more attractive option for other NBA players, many of whom already live here in the offseason.
• 3.) Howard wants to build his brand. That’s understandable. But he doesn’t need to go to Los Angeles or New York to do that. The Hawks need only show him last week’s New York Times story that was titled, “Stars Flock to Atlanta, Reshaping a Center of Black Culture.”
Excerpts from the story:
” … Fueled by a generous entertainment tax credit, the migration of affluent African-Americans from the North and the surprising fact that even celebrities appreciate the lower cost of living here, this capital of the Deep South is emerging as an epicenter of the black glitterati. …
To be sure, Atlanta has long had a high concentration of well-connected, affluent blacks. But the Atlanta area is now home to such a critical mass of successful actors, rappers and entertainment executives that few would argue its position as the center of black culture. Tyler Perry and his movie and television empire are based here. Sean Combs has a house in a suburb north of the city. The musicians Cee Lo Green, Ludacris and members of OutKast call it home. So does the music producer and rapper Jermaine Dupri.
Gladys Knight, an Atlanta native who was honored at the awards, which were taped Nov. 17, runs a chicken and waffle restaurant here. And it is not unusual to spot Usher at one of the city’s better restaurants.”
The Hawks’ biggest problem handicapping them in this situation: ownership. Regardless of what you think about the Atlanta Spirit, they are trying to sell the team and arena rights. (A potential sale to Alex Meruelo fell through four weeks ago.) Major trades, contracts, hirings and firings generally don’t happen when an ownership situation is in flux.
But this is a trade the Hawks need to pursue. As much as last year’s playoff showing was impressive — eliminating Orlando and taking Chicago to six games — few have a sense that this team could maneuver through the Eastern Conference, past Chicago, Miami and Boston, to get to the NBA finals.
Acquiring Howard is one huge step toward making that possible. He is worth any two players Orlando may want.
By Jeff Schultz