(This blog will be updated or replaced by a full column later.)
Dwight Howard is about to become a Los Angeles Laker and — if this deal doesn’t fall apart and the principles don’t change — this will be the Lakers’ lineup next season: Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Pau Gasol, Metta World Peace (see: Ron Artest) and Howard.
Wonder what it’s like to be king?
Even if the Lakers weren’t Howard’s first choice (strangely, Brooklyn was), this expected deal just reaffirms how star players have all the power in the NBA. As much as the owners hate it and NBA commissioner David Stern keeps trying to rewrite the rule book to prevent it, elite players will always have the hammer in the NBA because rosters are so small relative to other team sports and one star can make a significant difference.
There was a time when Howard, an Atlanta native and former star at Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy, once had a pristine off-court reputation. But his credibility has taken a beating for the past year. He morphed into the ultimate sports diva. He criticized teammates for a lack of work ethic and dedication while at the same time asking out of Orlando. He got his coach, Stan Van Gundy, fired. He flip-flopped on trade requests.
His defenders claim he was merely struggling to please everybody and he just wanted to be liked. Welcome to spin central.
But in the NBA, none of this matters. Every team still wanted Howard. He is the game’s most dominant center and one of the five best players in the world (assuming his back is healthy). Fans in Atlanta or anywhere else who ripped Howard would quickly embrace him if he wore their team’s uniform. That is why, regardless of the baggage, Howard still had the leverage.
Orlando never realized this.
The only people who handled the Howard saga worse than Howard were those people in the Magic front office. We can never really know in these situations whether to assign more blame to the owner (who counts ticket stubs) or the general manager (who needs to worry about his job). But had Orlando traded Howard a year ago, when he still had two years left on his contract, the team likely would’ve gotten more in return than they’ll get when this deal is done. The reported pieces going to the Magic in the four-team trade (Orlando, L.A., Denver, Philadelphia): Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington, Nikola Vucevic, Moe Harkless and five draft picks (but all three first-rounders are lottery-protected).
If that’s accurate, the Magic would be trading one of the best players in the world and not get Gasol, Andrew Bynum or even a high No. 1 pick in return. That’s embarrassing.
Now, about the Hawks: It was never realistic that Howard was coming here. Even with trading Joe Johnson, Hawks general manager Danny Ferry still had the pieces (Al Horford, Jeff Teague) to entice Orlando. But it didn’t make sense for Ferry to jump in unless Howard gave assurances that he would sign a contract extension here.
Imagine if the Hawks made the trade anyway, and then both Howard and Josh Smith left in free agency after the season? With Horford and Teague gone, now what?
The Lakers can take that risk. They’re closer to a title and there’s a better chance Howard stays in L.A. than Atlanta. They’ve got Kobe and Hollywood.
In the end, Howard will get what he wants. The stars always do.
I’ll have more on this deal if and when it goes down.
By Jeff Schultz
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