Friday, August 10, 2012

Instant Trade Analysis: Dwight Howard to the Los Angles Lakers

Los Angeles Lakers get: C Dwight Howard, PG Chris Duhon, SF Earl Clark

Orlando Magic get: PF Moe Harkless, C Nikola Vucevic (from Philadelphia), F Al Harrigton, SG Arron Afflalo (from Denver), 3 1st round picks (from Philadelphia, Denver and Los Angeles), 2 2nd round picks

Philadelphia 76ers get: C Andrew Bynum (from Los Angeles), SF Jason Richardson (from Orlando)

Denver Nuggets get: F Andre Iguodala (from Philadelphia)

In a trade that had become so apparent that it eventually became surprising again, the Orlando Magic have finally traded Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers in a four-team deal that immediately changes the face of each franchise.

To break this mammoth deal down, let's go city-by-city:

Los Angeles: Suffice to say, this trade was a complete "win" for the Lakers organization. But, it's important to note that this isn't at all out of character for a franchise that prides itself on staying competitive year after year with little segue between eras of success.

What Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak did here was not only improve the Lakers for the short term (we'll get to that in a minute), but also vastly improve it's future prospects, especially with Kobe and Pau Gasol already settling into the downside of their primes, as well as new acquisition Steve Nash nearing the age of 40. By acquiring Howard, and presumably signing him for the long term next summer (another, much longer post for another day), the Lakers have secured a competitive team for the next six years in LA. Though Howard is only one man, keep in mind that he transformed a team that had Hedo Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis and Jameer Nelson into two Eastern Conference Finalists, one of those squads going to the big dance in 2009. From here on out, the Lakers have to be looking at the summer of 2014, when Kobe, Pau and Metta World Peace all have their deals come off the Lakers cap to the tune of $57 million dollars. In fact, the only salary that LA has on their book in 2014-2015 is Steve Nash's $9.7 million dollar expiring contract.  The logic has to be to tell Howard to wait until that summer when LeBron, Carmelo, Wade and Bosh could all potentially become free agents, and see who would be interested in playing with him in Los Angeles for one of the most decorated franchises in North American professional sports. At that point, you can convince Howard that it will be his team, with an in-his-twilight Kobe at his side, to make a run at a title with another superstar.

Like all great Lakers deals, this one didn't just have an eye on the present, but on the future. GM Mitch Kupchak and especially the much-maligned VP of Player Personnel Jim Buss must be commended today for brokering a deal along the lines of the deft manuevering Jerry West had done over a decade earlier. In not trading Pau Gasol, the Lakers stay immediately competitive for the next year, as well as keeping (hopefully) one of the top five players in the league for the duration of his prime. The other players now on the Lakers, Chris Duhon and Earl Clark, are essentially just salary throw-ins. Duhon will be the only one out of the two to crack the rotation, as he and Steve Blakers will share back-up guard duties behind Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant. Duhon is a decent defender and 3-point shooter, so even at an over-priced $3 million per season, he's a decent addition to a team that need another guard off the bench.

Without getting too meta, on the court, the Lakers may have just cemented themselves in a three-way tie for title favorites. After the Steve Nash deal, the need for Howard became much more pressing. As a friend of MAMBINO said earlier this month, "Andrew takes plays off...weeks at a time. He's an incredibly capable defender, but you just can't count on him for literally weeks and weeks. He just checks out for no reason." That couldn't have summed it up more brilliantly; for everything that Andrew contributes on the offensive end, he really decided when and where he'll defend. Other times, it's completely secondary to scoring, or just generally being a strange cat. With Howard, the concerns about the Lakers' interior defense are all answered. Now, sieves like Steve Nash, Antawn Jamison and (at times) Kobe Bryant won't have as much pressure on their perimeter defense when they know that a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, and inarguably the best defensive player in the game is guarding the rim behind them.

What's been lost in this whole "Dwightmare" is that Howard is still an extraordinary, top five player in the world. Obviously, defensively, he holds no one's jock. However, offensively, while not as gifted or refined as Bynum, still is capable of throwing down an efficient 20 points per game. My concerns about Howard's lack of offense have been completely assuaged. Why? Steve Nash almost turned Marcin Gortat into a 3rd Team All-NBAer. Need I say more? Howard transforms this team in so many ways, most of which being that night to night, everyone knows what they'll be getting out of him, the effort he'll put forth and most importantly, that his knees aren't made out of baked confectioner's surgar. Consistency, especially in regards to his all-world defense, is what Howard brings first and foremost.

Going into next season, the onus was going to be largely on Bynum, and if he could stay consistent and healthy again, as well as how could Kobe and Nash play together and how the bench would perform. Now, with two new players, as well as a reloaded second unit, everyone in Lakerland has to turn their attention to Mike Brown. Throughout his tenure in Cleveland and his one year in Los Angeles, Brown has been well-regarded for his defensive philosophies and schemes, but certainly has been the bizarro Mike D'Antoni in terms of his offensive sets. To be fair, Ramon Sessions was probably the best point guard he's ever worked with and he got just under two weeks of training camp with a team that he didn't end the season with. Thus, going into this season with a starting lineup that, on paper, ranks as one of the best of all-time, Mike Brown must either show he can successfully orchestrate and offense, or be humble enough to let Steve Nash call a decent majority of the plays. It's weird to say that a coach is in his "make or break year" just 18 months into his tenure, but that's how it works in Los Angeles. Brown has been gifted with such phenomenal lineup, that it'll be on him to instill an effective defense-first philosophy and if he can implement an offense when finally given all the pieces.

Months ago, I wrote an entire post with indisputable proof that God loves the Los Angeles Lakers. I'm very rarely wrong.

Philadelphia: Brace yourself Philly. You're in for a really...interesting ride.

Despite winning the first round against a very game, but hobbled Chicago Bulls team in this year's playoffs, the 76ers are a rebuilding team looking towards the future. Former second overall pick SG Evan Turner has shown signs that he could be a very good player, but other than that, Philly had very little to look forward to in terms of building blocks. Thaddeus Young, Jrue Holiday and Spencer Hawes are role players in it for the long haul, but the thought of attracting or drafting another All-Star caliber player seemed sparse, at best.

If Andrew Bynum can remain healthy, this deal is a Matt Stairs home run. As I said, the Sixers were going to have a tough time getting another star to come to a city where they are mostly the fourth most popular team. Shedding Iguodala, who is at the peak of his powers, certainly wasn't an easy decision, but the truth was that he only had one year remaining on his deal, and then a player option he wasn't likely to pick up if Philly didn't show him a inclination to keep him in Eastern PA for the long term. Essentially, they've traded a year of Andre Iguodala, potential bust draft pick Vucevic, the unproven Harkless and a draft pick into a 2nd Team All-NBA center.

Which brings me to Bynum. The Sixers, by trading for Drew, are telling the young big man that yes, this is his team and whether they win or lose will be on top of his all-too-frequently ambivalent shoulders. They've thrown down the gauntlet to Bynum, who will sign a long-term extension with the team, asking him to lead the Sixers into contention for the Eastern Conference title. Like a signing would be with any team for Drew, the deal isn't without risks, but not any big enough to preclude them from committing to what could be a potential top-15 player in the league.

I wouldn't expect the Sixers to be immediately challenging Boston or Miami, but with a much improved Turner, solid play from Holiday, Young, Spencer Hawes, the newly-acquired Jason Richardson and another All-Star season from Bynum, they could fight for the fourth seed in the East. Philly badly needed offense, as we all saw in the Boston series, and Andrew will give that to them that in 20 per night. They finally will have a reliable offensive force, not to mention easy buckets from the instant scoring that is Jason Richardson.

Truly, this all does depend on how good Andrew can be. Whatever that ceiling is, we'll definitely find out with the defensive-minded Doug Collins breathing down his neck every day.

Denver: Much like the other two teams I just mentioned, this is a great deal for Denver. Iguodala is one of the best thirty players in the NBA, and a perfect defensive-first complement to Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler and Ty Lawson. If George Karl so chose, he'd be able to send in JaVale McGee, Kenneth Faried, Iguodala, Corey Brewer and Andre Miller as one of the most adept lineups at locking up any opposition. More than just his D, Iguodala provides the Nuggets with a much-needed capable play-making wing to go along with their shooters. At times, the Nuggets offense was incredibly stagnant, without another facilitator on the floor besides either Andre Miller or Ty Lawson (and thus why George Karl played both 6 foot guards on the floor so many times against the Lakers).

The most amazing part of this deal is that Denver sheds nearly $40 million in future payroll, including the incredibly overpriced deal for Al Harrington. Losing a confident shooting guard in Afflalo certainly hurts the Nuggets, but his loss is mitigated by bringing in a player like Iguodala who can play the same position and is, quite frankly, much much better than him. Denver won't make it much past the 4 to 6 seed again, but depending on the development into potential All-Stars for Danilo Gallinari and Ty Lawson, this team could rise as far as number 3 in the Western Conference. An amazing trade for the Nuggets, and much kudos to GM Masai Ujiri for not being afraid to undo past mistakes.

Orlando: Out of the four teams in this blockbuster, the Magic far and away come out the losers here, and not just because they traded away an All-World player. It's not so much about the package they received, in that it isn't too disimilar to anything they'd receive from Houston, Cleveland or whatever other permutations of the deal they'd previously had constructed. Orlando had long said that they didn't want Bynum if he didn't immediately sign an extension, thus prohibiting another season-long distraction from happening again.

The Magic end up with Moe Harkless, the number 15 pick this year, as well as Nikola Vucevic (a #16 pick just a year ago), a very talented young guard in Arron Afflalo, as well 3 additional 1st round draft picks from LA, Philly and Denver and 2 2nd round picks. Though Houston's Royce White might end up being better player than any guy they will draft or received int he deal, Orlando certainly can't be so displeased with receiving the same mid-teens picks they could have gotten earlier this year for Howard.

However, what's vexing about this deal is that they traded away Dwight, but were unable to move any other contracts besides Jason Richardson's eminently tradeable $19 million dollars over three years (which, I believe, could have been moved for a draft pick as J-Rich is still very talented) and Chris Duhon's $7.5 million dollar salary over two seasons. The Magic still have Glen Davis' $18 million over three years, Quentin Richardson's $6 million over two years and of course Hedo Turkoglu's $23 million over two years all on their cap, even though the mantra was repeated over and over that whoever traded for Dwight, had to take one of their contracts. Even more confusing is that the Magic took on Al Harrington's monstrous $20 million plus deal over the next three seasons, though the current scuttlebutt is that they'll buy him out next summer, as his deal is only partially guaranteed after this year.

According to MAMBINO contributor El Miz, the Magic will have at least $54 million on their books for the 2013-2014 season, a monstrous figure considering that this team as constructed won't be winning more than 30 to 40 games. And thus, the secondary part of the problem: this team won't be that bad. Last winter, when David Stern vetoed the Chris Paul to the Lakers deal, he did so because he didn't think it was the right basketball decision to take on veterans like Luis Scola, Lamar Odom, Kevin Martin and Goran Dragic, not only because it would prohibit their spending in the future with their ornery salaries, but also because those guys would be just good enough to be mediocre. The Hornets and Stern knew that New Orleans would need to get back young players, draft picks and expiring contracts, but no one good enough to prevent them from bottoming out and "winning" themselves out of the high draft lottery. Now looking towards the future, New Orleans has Anthony Davis, Eric Gordon and Austin Rivers holding down the bayou for the next ten years. One of the worst parts of the haul that the Magic got is that in criticizing them, is that no one can really come down on David Stern anymore for vetoing the Chris Paul deal as de facto "owner" of the Hornets. He was right. I feel dirty writing that.

The Magic had to see this lesson plan, but new GM Rob Hennigan replicated it very poorly. With vets like Davis, Turkoglu, Q-Rich, Harrington, Afflalo, JJ Redick and Jameer Nelson, this team will be winning games. They won't be spectacular, but with those players, as well as a gigantic chip on their collective shoulder in 2012-2013, I could see the Magic contending for the eighth playoff spot. A lot would have to go right, but no one can tell me that this squad won't be in the running to win somewhere between 30 and 40 games. That's great, but another mid-teens pick won't help the Magic rebuild any faster. In keeping a lot of these veteran players, Orlando has stayed mediocre for the short and long term. Considering all the alternatives, I can't see how the Magic finally settled on this deal as the best one.

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