If the Orlando Magic fall into an 0-2 hole tonight against the Atlanta Hawks, brace yourself for depressing, panicked writing in the Orlando Sentinel, and immediate, rampant speculation from everyone else about Dwight Howard’s future in O-Town.
Howard’s a free agent in 2012. The 3-time defending NBA Defensive Player of the Year is the jewel in a class that could also feature Deron Williams and Chris Paul. If the Magic have learned anything from teams who were in this spot before them (Cleveland, losers; Denver, winners) they must act quickly.
The Cavs tried (repeatedly) to surround LeBron with the necessary wingmen to win a title. The pieces never quite fit, he passed on the extension but gave the Cavs a shot, and then he took his talents to South Beach. The Nuggets tried to get Carmelo Anthony to sign an extension, but he forced a trade instead, and they fleeced the Knicks for four cheap players under the age of 26, a 1st round pick and two 2nd round picks. (I know some of you will find ‘fleece’ too strong of a word, but I’m fine with that.)
Obviously, Orlando will hope Dwight Howard signs an extension with the Magic, but an early postseason flameout (regression for the 2nd straight season after a trip to the Finals), plus a lengthy lockout and Orlando unable to do anything in free agency due to a maxed-out roster don’t bode well for the Magic. So GM Otis Smith needs to think seriously about trading the franchise rather than losing him for nothing (like Cleveland lost LeBron).
Among the teams you’re likely to hear will be in the mix:
Houston – Lots of future draft picks to dangle, but not much young talent. Patrick Patterson? Brandon Bass already does what he does, only better. Goran Dragic? Bring Courtney Lee back? Would the Rockets part with Kevin Martin? If they would, then Howard goes to a team without a partner-in-crime.
Golden State – Would the Warriors offer Stephen Curry, Dorrell Wright and Biedrins? The problem then becomes the Nelson/Arenas/Curry point guard shuffle. So if you swap Monta Ellis for Curry, do we have something? (Can’t imagine the Magic bring back Jason Richardson.) That would leave the Magic with a shrimpy backcourt of Nelson and Ellis, but a high-scoring one. And no post game to speak of, since Bass and Biedrins only excel at rebounding.
Indiana – Would they want to break up what appears to be a solid nucleus? Here’s the thing – they’ll have cap room to make some moves … what if Indiana packaged Posey’s expiring, Hibbert, Hansbrough, Rush and Dahntay Jones? The salaries don’t quite match, but Indiana would then have Howard, Granger, Collison, and promising Paul George to build around. They would have a decision to make on McRoberts or Foster, both of whom will be free agents.
LA Lakers – Obviously, an attractive franchise, but what bargaining chips do they have other than Andrew Bynum? And would Howard want to go to an old team with no other young talent? Oh, my bad, the Lakers are slated to get Chris Paul …
New Jersey – Could be the favorite if Deron Williams re-signs. Are they attractive because of Brook Lopez as a No. 3 option, or are they an attractive trade partner because the Magic might actually like Lopez in return? Less attractive: Throw-ins like Outlaw and Morrow.
New York - They’re here because I’d be too depressed to write this without including them. The Knicks obviously need a point guard ahead of a center, but if there was a way for the Knicks to suit up CP3, Melo and Dwight Howard … ok, I’ll stop dreaming now.
Sacramento - Longshot, but wouldn’t it be fun if the Kings moved to Anaheim, and decided to bring a star with them? Cousins, spare parts, and a pick or two isn’t a bad jumping off point.