Orlando should hold on to Howard … for now

Despite all the rumors, reports and speculations that he can be dealt to the Lakers any minute now, I can see a scenario where Dwight Howard does not get traded this summer … to anyone.

I think that the Magic have shown their willingness to be patient and to get the deal that they want. Trading Howard is way more complex than people think and Orlando is certainly not going to give him away for nothing.

And to get maximum value, Howard is going to have to show that he is healthy after having season-ending back surgery. So it may make sense for Orlando to wait and let him start the season in a Magic uniform and let him play up until the trade deadline, allowing some of the teams who are interested to see him on the court again. A healthy Howard is a total game-changer for any of the teams looking to acquire him.

Before last season’s surgery, which cost Howard the final 12 games of the 2011-12 season and all of the postseason, he was an extremely durable player who had missed only seven games over his first seven years in the league. He was productive last year prior to the injury, averaging 20.6 points and 14.5 rebounds in 54 games, an increase from the 18.2 and 12.9 he has averaged in his first seven seasons. 

But back injuries are very tricky and I don’t think even the doctors understand exactly how the back works consistently. Sometimes bad degenerating disks, bulging disks and even ruptured disks can be relatively pain free while the same type of injuries — or even lesser ones — can result in excruciating pain.

I suffered a back injury that eventually ended my career. It happened early in my career during my fourth year in the league (1983-84 with the Denver Nuggets). I wasn’t supposed to play again, and although I did end up resuming my career, I was never quite the same player after that. (Vandeweghe averaged 29.4 points per game during his fourth year in the NBA; he averaged 17.7 the rest of his career.)

All of your power to your legs is generated thru your lower back, and if your lower back is hurting you can’t generate enough power for those quick NBA movements necessary to be successful in this league. Somebody extremely athletic and large like Howard depends on explosiveness, and I think that a back injury could affect him more. His injury is not to be taken lightly.

Granted, training and rehab techniques are much better today than in my playing days — and Howard’s prognosis from the doctors is excellent — but there is still risk. Any of these teams rumored to be trading for Howard is certainly going to put him through a battery of medical tests to make sure he is healthy because if you’re trading away major assets and paying him major dollars, you want to make sure he can still compete at the highest level.

That he will still be Dwight Howard.

I think that is why it makes the most sense to let him start the season in Orlando and see him play again to increase his value and his possible suitors. We all know that Brooklyn — Howard’s desired location — will be in the background come January, and let’s not forget that Howard has changed his mind a couple times already. Orlando might be thinking if we don’t get the offer we want let’s keep him and maybe he’ll change his mind again and sign with us.

It’s a possibility.

When you trade a superstar like Howard, you are in total rebuilding mode. You go from contender to a lottery team, so if and when the Magic make a deal, they need to get a combination of very young players on good contracts, draft choices and cap flexibility.

I think if you are looking at Howard, you have to say he wants to be traded to a major market first and foremost and someplace where the team can really utilize and exploit his talents and afford to keep him. Howard has said that Brooklyn is his first choice for a variety of reasons. I think the Nets are not out of the running long term, but certainly would be out of the running until the trade deadline (Jan. 15). But they’ve made moves in signing Brook Lopez and Kris Humphries to two contracts that would allow them to trade for Howard at that time.

Right now in the short term, the Lakers seem best equipped if Orlando, or some other team — Cleveland — likes Andrew Bynum.

Which brings us to the current rumors that are out there regarding the Lakers. They obviously have great interest in Howard and have shown a reported willingness to trade for him without him re-signing long term, which is a big gamble — but a calculated one. They obviously would have to trade Bynum as part of that deal and he wouldn’t necessarily go to Orlando, with Cleveland entering the picture according to reports. That third team is necessary to give Orlando the additional cap space and future picks or the young players that it would need in any Howard deal.

Of course, if Los Angeles can get a healthy Howard, the Lakers would make themselves a contender as long as Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash are still healthy and Howard is with them. But to give up major assets in any trade and gamble on Howard’s health and signing him long term is a risk.

Look at the Houston Rockets. They’re all in in chasing Howard and they’ve given up multiple good players for cap space to take back some of the big contracts Orlando has to unload in the trade and have the draft choices to kick start Orlando’s rebuilding efforts. But Howard has said he’s not going to re-sign with Houston, so why attempt a trade?

The Atlanta Hawks are also in a state of flux at this point as they dumped some big contracts and made it clear they are going to try to start over. I’m sure they’re working feverishly behind the scenes to try and make a Howard deal come to fruition. They’ve got some good pieces, but are they willing to basically tear down their whole team to get him?

When you are trading for Howard, or any superstar for that matter, you don’t trade for them unless you have pieces around him where you think you can win and get him to re-sign with you. You have to give up multiple assets to acquire that superstar, but you have to make sure you have enough remaining so you can still be competitive at the highest level.

I think it’s tricky for any of these teams to do this.

And though a return to Orlando may not be ideal, Howard is a very easy player to love. He plays so hard, and except for his back injury, he has always shown up to play. After his first 30-point, 20-rebound game, even the most ardent fan is going to cheer for the superstar again.

There is no question that this episode hurts his brand, but fans will re-embrace him … wherever he is.