How Bad Do You Want Dwight Howard?

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Since the New York Knicks aren’t willing to offer us any team related news or notes, here’s a stab in the dark at creating some on my own. Off to the future we go.

No free agent on the immediate horizon is creating as much intrigue and excitement as Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard. Remember what Shaq did to the league in the early parts of the decade? He wasn’t just basketball’s most dominant force, he was the supreme authority in professional sports. The only other athlete I can think of who showcased a near unfair advantage that ran parallel with O’Neal was Barry Bonds, and he comes with a disclaimer.

In a league so dried of skilled big men that the perpetually injured Kendrick Perkins can receive a $30 million dollar contract just because he bangs people around, Dwight Howard has more than enough room to dominate the foreseeable future if paired with competent wing players who can score and create on their own when needed. He’s far from perfect offensively, and could still stand to develop a soft touch around the basket, but he’ll be a perennial rebounding king and Defensive Player of the Year candidate for the next six or seven years. In short, he’s headed towards a historical level of greatness.

And so I bring forth a trade proposal that almost makes too much sense. Here’s the scenario: The Knicks begin next season healthy and determined but through the season’s first few months can’t seem to fit themselves in with the Heats, Celtics, and Bulls as elite teams in the Eastern Conference. They aren’t improving, and despite flashes of brilliance, remain as inconsistent as they were this spring. Sometime around Valentine’s Day, a phone call is placed by Donnie Walsh to the office of Otis Smith (if nobody in Orlando’s pushed him in front of a bus yet) and the following is proposed: New York sends Amar’e Stoudemire and Chauncey Billups’ expiring contract to the Magic in exchange for Dwight Howard and Gilbert Arenas.

Why it works for the Knicks:

New York will not only fill its team’s biggest hole, it’ll do so in the best possible way. Howard immediately shores up the league’s least reputable defense while supplying a consistent offensive threat. For the first time in his career, doubling down wouldn’t be an option as long as Carmelo is diverting the defenses’ focus—and vice versa—and since the two play completely different styles, unlike Amar’e and Anthony, it shouldn’t pose a problem. The main difference between Amar’e and Dwight on offense is Dwight doesn’t need to shoot in order to be effective. Just having him around the basket, setting high screens for point guards, or passing out to the three point line when the inevitable double team presents itself helps him put an imprint on the game while his teammates put the ball in the basket. When an opposing team goes on a little six, seven, eight point run, the Knicks always have the option of throwing it down to the big fella and having him either attempt a shot from four feet and in, throw down a thunderous dunk, draw a foul, or, in the most pleasant circumstance, two of the above.

Losing Amar’e is sad, but not heartbreaking. It’d be like having your brand new Corvette stolen on a Monday morning, then winning the lottery 20 seconds later and buying two Bentleys. I couldn’t care less about his relationship with the city or how active he’s been within the community in his 11 months as a Knick. It’s appreciated, but not the overall important factor. This is a basketball decision that makes the Knicks better, plain and simple. Amar’e can’t play defense and seems disinterested in making it a priority. This isn’t to say he’s not one of the top five power forwards in the game—which would nullify the point of the trade—because he is. It’s just that the team already has its one go-to scorer. We’ve already seen Carmelo’s inability to play harmoniously when another ball stopping, shoot first scorer is by his side. (When Carmelo and Iverson were both in Denver, watching them alternate shot attempts was like witnessing two bloodthirsty lions fighting over the same gazelle carcass.) There’s more evidence on the side of Amar’e and Carmelo not working out than the two serving as the Knicks backbone and eventually leading them to a championship.

This hypothetical trade scenario looks a lot better if the Knicks take a point guard instead of an undeveloped big man with their first round selection. Obviously, it’ll serve as a major indicator as to which road New York’s planning on taking in regards to improving their center position, and if Chauncey departs, the rookie/Toney Douglas/maybe Anthony Carter combo should be enough. Taking Gilbert Arenas’ nuclear contract isn’t fun, but it’s a realistic and necessary price they’d have to pay.

Why it works for Orlando:

The previous section was pretty straightforward. The Knicks need a big man who can rebound and play defense. Dwight Howard is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year and has led the league in total rebounds five times. Presto. Problem solved. Down in Orlando things are a tad more complicated. Filled with terrible contracts and aging players who’re on the decline, the Magic are a giant tractor thats back tires are submerged in clotted mud. The looming shadow that’s cast over the franchise concerning Howard’s possible departure is 6000 times larger than the man himself, and moving forward with no action could send the team into a decade long tailspin, clinging to the lottery as their only hope of a bailout. By moving Howard and Arenas in exchange for Stoudemire and Billups, the Magic would maintain their place as a playoff team—building around an Amar’e Stoudemire still in his prime—while still looking ahead to a bright future. Gilbert’s contract would be gone and Chauncey’s is expiring so his would also come off the books.

While Amar’e and Jameer Nelson put their near unstoppable high screen and roll on repeat, the team would be in a great position to make additional moves with their new found cap space flexibility. They’d be granted that rare opportunity of rebuilding on the fly that general managers dream about. Amar’e would be the cornerstone—a position he seems to enjoy—in his hometown. A win-win for everybody.

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