Here’s the thing: no matter what, the Orlando Magic are going to suck next season. It’s going to be bad. Nobody’s going to the Amway Center to watch the Magic for the first time since the Dwight era began. Superman has left the building; whether literally or figuratively it remains to be seen. Either the Magic roster is going to have the most disinterested and disillusioned players in basketball next season (if they keep Dwight on the roster) or they’re going to have the a team that stinks it up on the court with terrible, awful, unwatchable basketball possibly only rivalled by the Bobcats (who at least have a guy named Biyombo). And somewhere deep down, new Magic GM Rob Hennigan knows this. He understands that his predecessor Otis Smith torpedo’d the Magic roster over the last few years in a way that makes even Isiah Thomas smile. And that’s exactly why they should keep Dwight, because he’s their only ticket out of this mess.
The Magic should keep Dwight for now because he is the single most valuable player in basketball today. He’s irreplaceable. At least with LeBron James, you can come close (Kevin Durant). Dwight Howard is the last of a breed; you hold on to him with both hands and shake your head when somebody tries to take him away. This guy just averaged at least 20 ppg, 14 rpg and 2 bpg in the last two consecutive seasons with a PER of nearly 25 last season. You know which other ball player has those averages over the same period? Oh wait, nobody. He’s a 6′ 11, 265 pound center with a muscle tone that you wouldn’t believe and the ability to be the single most devastating defensive force in basketball today.
Ace coach Stan Van Gundy constructed an entire offensive strategy that revolved around Dwight Howard and a bunch of shooters. The Lakers have a few plays where they feed Bynum in the post or run high picks with Pau Gasol. The Heat have a few plays where they go to a Bosh isolation, where Chalmers explodes to the basket off the pick. The Thunder have Harden handling the ball, Kevin Durant curls and and even Ibaka pick-and-pops. The Magic had Dwight Howard and shooters and every offensive play involved the two. When the Magic made the Finals, the Turkoglu-Howard pick-and-roll was probably the only consistent offensive weapon they had apart from Give The Ball To Howard And Get Behind The Three Point Line. And this is inspite of Howard being a barely above-average offensive player. He’s got only the most rudimentary post moves. It’s his imposing physical frame that presents so much of a problem for teams. The Magic made the NBA Finals doing this. You don’t simply trade this guy for Anderson freaking Varejao and a few draft picks. That’s the most absurd trade offer the Magic have fielded! Varejao is Dikembe Mutombo circa 2001 only without the elite shot blocking and Howard is the current equivalent of Shaq in 2004-05. That isn’t a trade, that’s a gift.
The Magic should just keep Howard for now; it’s simple logic. Here’s a list of the trade offers that are publicly known and the drawbacks of each:
1) Houston Rockets trade Kevin Martin, Patrick Patterson, Marcus Morris, Chandler Parsons and draft picks for Dwight Howard, Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu and Chris Duhon -
This is by far the best concrete offer the Magic have received. It takes roughly 21 million dollars in salary off their books, gives them future draft picks, three first round picks from the last few years and one of the best shooters in the game. That’s among the better deals any rebuilding team can get; vast cap space flexibility, young talents, draft picks. And the Rockets are offering this deal without a guarantee from Dwight that he’ll stay past net season. Despite how attractive this deal is, it still sucks. Because the draft picks might be duds, Patterson, Morris and Parsons could emerge as nothing more than role players and nobody would want to sign with the Magic in free agency. The Magic can get this deal from any team between now and February (trade deadline). Why? Because Dwight is irreplaceable.
2) Lakers get Dwight, Cavaliers get Bynum and the Magic get Varejao and draft picks -
This is by far the worst offer the Magic could get (although the details of the deal are admittedly sketchy). Think of all the most lop-sided trades in NBA history. This would trump all of them and it wouldn’t even be close. Varejao is a solid starter for a solid team; nothing more, nothing less. He’s definitely not talented or capable enough to be the centerpiece in a Dwight deal. In addition, the picks from Cleveland will be in the 12-20 range seeing as they’ll be an above average team with a core of Bynum-Irving-Waiters-Thompson. The Magic can’t do this to their fans, they simply cannot.
3) Lakers get Dwight, Magic get Bynum plus picks-
Bynum is the second best center in the league and a potential superstar who averaged 18/12/2 with a 23 PER last season for the Lakers. Yes, those numbers are the closest to Dwight among all players. This is the most palatable trade for the Magic if:
1) Bynum’s knees are checked and A-OK’d by at least half-a-dozen doctors.
2) Bynum commits to an extension with the Magic at the time of the trade.
Bynum has publicly stated that he is not willing to extend his contract and wishes to test free agency. Which sort of puts the Magic in the same hole as the one they’re in with Howard.
4) Nets get Dwight, Turkoglu+Duhon, Magic get Brook Lopez, Kris Humphries, draft picks -
This trade cannot be executed till mid-January, as free agents (Humphries, Lopez) cannot be traded for a particular period after they are signed. This is a terrible trade now, and will be a terrible trade in January because a) Lopez cannot rebound, b) there are no high draft picks involved, which is deal-killer and c) the single most dominant center in the game today for Brook Lopez, are you freaking kidding me?
If these are the best trade offers the Magic have received, the front office should simply lock up the Dwight Howard Trade Conference Room and go holidaying in the Bahamas for a while. Because these offers not only do not get near-equivalent value for their franchise player (which is admittedly near impossible), but they do not position the Magic to be a good team at any point in the future. The Magic should hold on and not trade Dwight till they get a deal involving a young star plus draft picks/salary flexibility. The Clippers might offer Blake Griffin for Howard, who knows? Dwight’s hometown Atlanta might offer Horford (15p/10r in the season before last) and Teague (13p/5a last season) plus draft picks soon, who knows? Into the season, a team might decide to rebuild and do a fire sale of its assets, who knows (think Deron Williams, Jazz-Nets trade – who saw that coming?)
What the Magic do know is that Dwight Howard does not want to step on the Amway Center court next season. Because no player has ever played for fans who have hated him so much. Imagine an arena filled with boos. Imagine hate and vitriol, like LeBron playing in Cleveland, for forty one games. It would destroy Howard, and it would destroy Howard’s brand. Give it some time, Orlando Magic. Because suddenly, Dwight Howard may do another U-turn. He might just be amenable to playing for a bunch of other teams. Dwight Howard is the worst sight for a Magic fan today, but he’s also the only hope the Magic have left to be relevant again. To have a playoff team again sometime in the near future. And besides, he’s too damn good to gift away to a team for coin change. Hang in there, Rob Hennigan, and embrace Dwight Howard. Because he’s all you have left.