Dwight Howard can choose to become a free agent this summer if he doesn’t pick up his player option for next year. Because of that, there has been trade speculation surrounding him all season. And now, as the Rockets sit with a disappointing 27-28 record on the outside of the Western Conference playoff picture, Adrian Wojnarowki of Yahoo! Sports reports that Houston is contacting teams about trading Howard.
He may have lost some popularity over the years, and he may not be quite as dominant or healthy as he once was in Orlando, but Howard still belongs on the list of the NBA’s five best centers. He still defends. He protects the paint about as well as anyone. He grabs rebounds at an elite rate. He’s capable finishing around the rim. There are teams for whom he’s worth the rental — and for whom he’s worth trying to keep around after that.
Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is one of the league’s more creative GMs, but he may not be able to think of every possible trade involving his current starting center. Here are a few that may get him working:
Howard actually grew up in Atlanta, so even though he would play only 20-something games for the Hawks after the deal, you’d have to imagine coach Mike Budenholzer’s team would have a legitimate shot to re-sign him come free agency this summer. ESPN reported recently that the Hawks may be entertaining deals for Al Horford, who will also be a free agent at the end of this season. The current Hawks center could be a nice fit inside the Houston offense with his shooting, and you’d have to imagine the Rockets would do everything they could both to bring him back to Houston and progress his game out to the three-point line. Tiago Splitter adds some depth to the Rockets roster and Donatas Motiejunas gives the Hawks an extra young piece who could both back up and play next to Paul Millsap.
Maybe the Knicks want to get out of Carmelo Anthony’s contract, which still has three years left on it after this one. Maybe Melo wants to head to Houston to play next to James Harden and for a team that’s only one year removed from the Western Conference finals. Maybe Howard would entertain sticking around in New York, a big market where he could still be a star. And maybe the Knicks, who have a locker room full of high-character players, would be willing to take a risk on Ty Lawson, who was one of the NBA’s 10 best point guards less than a year ago. It’s unlikely a trade of this magnitude would happen (especially since Anthony has a no-trade clause), but Howard and Kristaps Porzingis could make for an intimidating defensive frontcourt and a fitting offensive one. And Houston would actually get another star to play next to Harden while receiving back a quality defensive and pick-and-roll center in Robin Lopez. There are ways this deal makes sense for everyone.
So, this deal just involves everyone. The Rockets get to clear some cap space with David Lee’s contract, and they receive two young pieces in Kelly Olynyk and Julius Randle. The Lakers get Hassan Whiteside, whom they can re-sign in the offseason and whom has the personality and flashiness to become a star in Los Angeles. The Heat may have a tough time trying to re-sign Whiteside this offseason, and Erik Spoelstra has sat him for plenty of fourth quarters, so Jae Crowder should be more than enough value back for him. Miami could play small lineups that included Crowder and Luol Deng at the two forward spots and Chris Bosh at the 5. The Celtics, meanwhile, get a star and a rim-protector, something Brad Stevens has never had during his time in Boston, which is why a huge deal to bring Howard to Beantown shouldn’t be the only option on the table for Celtics general manager Danny Ainge …
The Celtics owe their top-five defense to their surplus of wing defenders: Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder are all wonderful and versatile. But giving up one of those guys for a much-needed rim protector could help Boston a whole bunch. The Dallas pick, which the Celtics received in last year’s deal that sent Rajon Rondo to the Mavs, would almost certainly come this year, given that it’s top-seven protected. So, Houston gets a perimeter defender to complement Trevor Ariza or James Harden and a pick out of the whole thing. It could do worse while giving up a potential expiring contract.
Agents are behind more transactions in the NBA than many people realize. And here, we’d actually have two clients of Dan Fegan, Dwight Howard and Chandler Parsons, traded for each other. Howard and Parsons will likely become free agents this summer (Parsons has a player option for next year, as well), and considering the drama that ensued the last time Parsons was a free agent with Houston, we could be in for Fun Free Agency, Part 2. On top of that, Houston receives Zaza Pachulia, who’s on a cheap contract and is in the midst of the best year of his career, and Justin Anderson, a first-round pick still in his rookie season. Everyone wins.