In case ya hadn’t heard, Dwight Howard is headed to Tinseltown. He joins Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Shaquille O’Neal on the list of superstar centers acquired by the Lakers in the middle of their prime. A player as dominant as Dwight Howard, in a league devoid of great centers, certainly has a high trade value. (Sixth highest in the NBA according to Bill Simmons, back in March.) Orlando must’ve gotten a haul in return for Dwight… Right?
The obvious first place to look for emotional, kneejerk reaction is Twitter. Here goes:
Okay, you get the idea. Orlando didn’t get much in return for Dwight. This was one of those “We need to get worse in order to get better” deals. But even those usually include a talented young player and some draft picks. What did the Magic bring back in the reported trade?
I’m not sure that the details are exactly finalized, but it sounds as if the four-teamer sends Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington, Nikola Vucevic, Moe Harkless, Josh McRoberts, Christian Eyenga, and three PROTECTED first round picks. By all accounts I have read, those picks are protected from the lottery.
If my math is correct, that is zero players with All-Star potential and zero lottery picks. For the best center in basketball; a player who has won three Defensive Player of the Year awards (2009-11) and has been named to the past FIVE First Team All-NBA teams. There’s a strong argument to be made that Dwight Howard is the league’s second most valuable player. Shouldn’t he bring back more than this HEAPING PILE in a trade? For comparison, let’s take a peek at some of the most recent superstar trades to see how this usually plays out.
Teams: Utah Jazz trade Deron Williams to New Jersey Nets
When: February 2011
Circumstances: Weeks before the trade, legendary Jazz coach, Jerry Sloan, abruptly resigned and there was speculation that his deteriorated relationship with the star point guard was a primary factor. Also, Williams would be a free agent in 2012 and Utah saw an opportunity to get a better return when it still had leverage.
Haul: Derrick Favors, Devin Harris, 1st Round Picks (2), Cash. One pick has since turned into Enes Kanter.
Results: “A-” When the trade was made, Utah was heading south in a hurry. It was unlikely that Williams would stay there in free agency. Instead of rolling the dice on his free agency while waging P.R. Warfare on the Sloan Fallout, the Jazz quickly rebuilt its team and even made the playoffs in 2012 with an interesting, front-court-loaded roster. Derrick Favors, the centerpiece of the deal, looks to have Tyson Chandler potential — and not in the “he’s big and athletic” way as much as, “He might be as good as Tyson Chandler tomorrow, if not today.” Favors is big, strong, athletic and knows how to protect the basket. He’s the prototype for modern NBA defensive anchors. Utah did very well, considering the circumstances. In its first (and only!) “bottom-out” lottery, the Jazz drafted Alec Burks. He had some rookie struggles, but shows promise as a slashing wing player who gets to the free throw line.
Teams: Denver Nuggets trade Carmelo Anthony to New York Knicks
When: February 2011
Circumstances: Melo was ready to explore free agency (read: leave Denver for New York) in the upcoming summer. He refused to sign an extension and wavered on his commitment level throughout the season. The easy and frequently-used headline was, “Melodrama.” Denver’s decision to make, which was well understood by the time of the trade, was whether to keep Melo for the rest of the year and lose him to free agency, or to trade him for whatever it could get before the deadline.
Haul: Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov, draft picks, and cash.
Results: “B+” Denver was reinvigorated after trading Melo for a talented and energetic quartet of Knicks. The Nuggets finished the year strong, winning 50 games and making the playoffs. Gallinari, when healthy, is a very interesting player with big potential. Mozgov gives Denver good minutes as a reserve big man. Why then do they only get a B+? Well, for one thing, Felton is no longer there and Chandler spent last season in China. Mozgov remains a “reserve” big man. Gallinari is good, but he didn’t set the world on fire this past season; one in which he probably fell below expectations. On the other hand, and this is despite our appreciation for all that Melo does at an elite level, Anthony is on the fringes of the “superstar” discussion. His inconsistent effort on defense and ball-stopping tendencies make him something of a rich man’s Al Jefferson, where you aren’t sure how much of the offense should be geared toward watching him play one-on-one. But he is the best (of the “everybody but LeBron” caveat that exists when discussing specialty players in today’s NBA where LeBron seems to be the best at every single attribute or skill) of the one-on-one scorers. He’s a beast. Denver is absolutely deserving of a high grade for this trade because they were losing Melo no matter what, and they turned him into a good starting forward and front court depth. By its other nifty moves (drafting/trading for Ty Lawson and drafting THE MANIMAL) Denver has itself positioned a string of more playoff appearances. Some view Denver as the third-best team in the West right now after the Thunder and Lakers. That is damn impressive, considering what expectations were during the Melodrama.
Teams: Memphis Grizzlies trade Pau Gasol to Los Angeles Lakers
When: January 2008
Circumstances: Memphis fell apart in the 2006-07 season, going 22-60. In January 2008, they were 13-32 after Gasol’s last game as a Grizzly. Trading him away was rebuilding all the way. Chris Wallace couldn’t deny it when he said, “I hate to use that ‘R’ word. But I think I’m a realist. We’re a 13-win team so don’t kid yourself. Don’t sugarcoat it. We’ve got some interesting pieces but we’re a 13-win team. In that situation you’ve got to look to make moves. … It’s time to try a new course. I’ve changed directions about this.”
Haul: Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, Aaron McKie, Marc Gasol (his draft rights; he had not yet played in the NBA), draft picks, cash.
Results: Ummm… I don’t know how to grade this one. At the time it was announced, this was arguably the most one-sided, head-scratching trade in modern NBA history. First of all, Pau Gasol was not demanding a trade nor was he an impending free agent. Memphis had no urgency to trade Gasol. (And they traded him weeks before the deadline, hardly considering all possible options.) Second, and more importantly, Memphis brought back almost NOTHING (or so we thought, more on this in a second) in the deal. Ah, what am I wasting time for. I’ll let Pop tell you how he felt about it, as a Western Conference competitor of LA’s:
“What they did in Memphis is beyond comprehension,” said Popovich. “There should be a trade committee that can scratch all trades that make no sense. I just wish I had been on a trade committee that oversees NBA trades. I’d like to elect myself to that committee. I would have voted no to the L.A. trade.”
When told that Wallace had challenged executives to criticize the deal publicly, Popovich replied, “Well, there you go. I’m on the record.”
It was a HORRIBLE trade for the Grizzlies.
Orrrr… was it? The Grizz finished up the ’08 season predictably-terrible, with another 22-60 record; the same as the season before. They made a famous draft night swap with the Wolves, flipping Kevin Love for O.J. Mayo, who went on to finish runner-up to Derrick Rose for Rookie of the Year honors. But they only won 24 games in 2008-09. It was the following season, after hiring Coach Lionel Hollins, that things turned around. Along with the development of Rudy Gay and the acquisition of a rejuvenated Zach Randolph, a little-known detail of the Pau Gasol Trade–his little brother, Marc–was coming into his own as a legit NBA center. Marc shed some baby fat that slowed him down as a young player and has become one of the league’s very-best centers. He made the All-Star Team in 2012. Oh, and the Grizzlies are on the fringes of the championship contender conversation, having just won a franchise-record 62.1 percent of games in 2012. They were a NICK YOUNG ABERRATION game away from advancing to the second round of the playoffs for the second consecutive season.
So, if they got back Marc Gasol — a bigger, (currently) better, and four-and-a-half years younger player than his brother, shouldn’t the Grizz get high marks for this trade?
I’ll give em a B. It was really fucking stupid at the time it happened and I’m willing to chalk up some of Marc’s development to luck. Wallace hasn’t done much else to make me think otherwise.
Teams: Minnesota Timberwolves trade Kevin Garnett to Boston Celtics
When: July 2007
Circumstances: After a magical playoff run in 2004 that ended in Game 6 of the conference finals, the Wolves struggled. They narrowly missed the playoffs in 2005. In a move that can only be described as desperate, they traded for Ricky Davis in a big delusion that he was a sufficient Robin to KG’s Batman. (Certain local sportswriters might say it would have to be the other way around.) Needless to say, it didn’t work. The team missed the playoffs in 2006, and again in 2007. It tanked the ends of seasons to avoid forfeiting the draft pick owed to the Clippers for Marko Jaric (recently used by the Hornets to draft Austin Rivers.) Although Garnett never demanded a trade–and may very well have not wanted one–the Wolves wanted to go another direction. So they shopped Garnett and found a suitor in Boston, where Kevin McHale’s good buddy Danny Ainge was running operations.
Haul: Al Jefferson, Sebastian Telfair, Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green, Theo Ratliff’s Expiring Contract, draft picks (including a 1st Rounder owed to Boston).
Results: “C-” This grade might seem high, except that I’m trying to give the Wolves (McHale) some credit for the asset that Al Jefferson was, when this trade went through. Big Al, surrounded by an epically-shitty supporting cast, played well in 2007-08, and the first half of 2008-09, before crumbling to the New Orleans floor with a torn ACL in February 2009. At that point in time, the Wolves had just won the league’s most games in January, they had fired Randy Wittman, and looked like they were finally doing the “building” part of rebuilding. But after Jefferson went down, they sucked. And then when David Kahn took over and traded away Randy Foye and Mike Miller (an unbelievably-great trade in the long-term, as it led to Ricky Rubio, but a talent dump in the short term) they sucked some more. The Wolves won 15 games in 2010 and 17 games in 2011. They traded away Jefferson for very little. The long-term returns on the Garnett trade are essentially nothing. But that isn’t entirely McHale’s fault, as the Jefferson knee injury really derailed the process.
The Celtics? They immediately won the championship, made the Finals again in 2010, and damn-near made the Finals AGAIN in 2012. Garnett will retire as one of the two best power forwards of all time. The kick-in-the-balls part of the KG trade is that McHale didn’t hold out for Rajon Rondo. You’re kidding yourself if you believe that Ainge wouldn’t have done it. He was coming off of 33 and 24-win seasons, just missed out on Oden and Durant, and had a chance to get KEVIN GARNETT to team with Allen, Pierce, Perkins? Rondo could’ve been had.
So after considering these recent superstar trades, what grade does Orlando deserve? Before making that conclusion, let’s think about the factors that shape the discussion:
- Urgency – Was the team forced into the trade?
- Trade Value – What was the market for this player?
- The Return – What did they get?
- Uncertainty – Are any players in the deal “potential” guys, like Marc Gasol proved to be (and Gerald Green didn’t–at least not until 2012!!!)?
The first factor, urgency, generally weighs in Orlando’s favor here. Dwight demanded a trade. He had one season left on his contract (because he stupidly “opted-in” only to immediately demand another trade!) and he was definitely leaving in 2013, after making 2012 a miserable year for the Magic. However, Orlando could have waited it out until the February trade deadline, when contenders might line up better assets to get Howard for the playoff push.
The second factor, trade value, is difficult to ascertain. Howard lowered his own trade value immeasurably by insisting on certain teams–a short list that included New Jersey and… I’m not even sure who else, where he said he would be willing to re-sign for the long term. Anywhere else, and he’d explore free agency. The Lakers have the luxury that others don’t of being… well, the Lakers. Bill Simmons described it:
Remember the days when Howard wouldn’t play for the Lakers because he didn’t like the phone call he had with Kobe Bryant, when Kobe allegedly told him that Dwight would make for a good third option? Well, Howard spent the last few months living at L’Ermitage (a fancy hotel in Beverly Hills) and rehabbing after undergoing surgery for a herniated disk. Every day, the Beverly Hills residents saw him strolling around town with his entourage (usually to and from Robertson Boulevard), since that was the best way for him to get a little exercise. And at some point, he must have realized, “Wow, I could get used to this.” Important note: Most human beings move to Los Angeles for what they assume will be a short period of time, feel like they’re on vacation for a few months … and eventually, they come to grips with the fact that they’re probably never leaving because it’s 75 degrees every day and there are 10,000 things to do in Los Angeles. I am one of those people. Apparently, so is Dwight Howard. We’ll never know this for sure, but I don’t think he would have pushed for a Los Angeles trade if he hadn’t lived there this summer. There has to be a connection. It’s also why Lakers fans know they don’t have to worry about Howard leaving next summer. There’s no chance he leaves. It will never happen.
With these constraints placed on the Magic, Dwight’s trade value was lower than it would be “in a vaccum.” The earlier-rumored deal with New Jersey, centered around Brook Lopez, was evidence that the offers out there for D12 were not strong ones.
The return was not impressive. However, it wasn’t as (seemingly) bad as the Pau Gasol trade, if only because Arron Afflalo is an above-average starting shooting guard. Could second-year big man NIKOLA VUCEVIC improve in a different situation, playing for JACQUE VAUGHN! ? I don’t know, but crazier things have happened. (I think I just covered the fourth factor there.) For Dwight Howard, this was a rotten return, no matter the circumstances.
Orlando is going to bottom out and hope that future decisions in the draft and free agency can get them to where they want to be. If they’re like Denver, they’ll knock those decisions out of the park and barely miss a stride. If they’re like Minnesota, they’ll botch 90 percent of those decisions and flounder. If they’re like Memphis, they’ll botch 90 percent of those decisions and somehow still thrive. It’s hard to say.
For this Superstar Trade, I’d give the Magic a straight D.