Winners And Losers From Howard Deal

If you have any rooted interest in the NBA, you’ve probably heard about the reported blockbuster trade sending Dwight Howard to the Lakers by now. The trade is sure to shake up the outlook of the upcoming season, as the Lakers will add a three-time Defensive Player of the Year to a core that already included two former MVPs (Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash) and a perennial All-Star (Pau Gasol).

That the Lakers were able to land Howard while giving up only Andrew Bynum is obviously a huge boost to their title chances, at the least in the short term. But with so much set to change in the NBA, it’s worth looking at which teams and players are set to benefit from this trade and who should be shaking their head at the news of this blockbuster.

Winner: Los Angeles Lakers

One look at the Lakers’ roster must put the fear of God in most of the NBA’s contenders. In one night, the purple and gold went from being just another solid team in the West to a legitimate title contender, and arguably the favorite to win it all. Behind the most dangerous frontcourt in the league, the Lakers will be a terrifying matchup for the wing-loaded Heat and have added perhaps the only player that can cover up for Nash’s inability to guard the league’s elite point guards.

But time will really tell whether this trade benefits L.A. in the long run; Howard hasn’t committed to extending his contract with the Lakers next offseason, and if he doesn’t, the Lakers just gave up Bynum to rent Howard for a year. Either way, you’d have to say GM Mitch Kupchak pushed the right button here, as getting Howard puts the Lakers in the best position to take advantage of the narrow window they have to contend for a title as Bryant and Nash reach to twilight of their careers.

Loser: Orlando Magic

New Magic Rob Hennigan GM was clearly handed an impossible task when trying to obtain assets in exchange for Howard without any leverage. However, the haul the Magic received in return was perhaps less appetizing than anyone could have expected, especially when there were rumors that Orlando could receive big man Brook Lopez from the Nets.

Instead, the only young player they received that could potentially play a role in their next winning team is Arron Afflalo, who would likely be no more than a role player on any successful team. What’s worse is that they weren’t able to unload Hedo Turkoglu’s massive contract in the deal, and there are reports all three first-round picks the Magic will receive will be protected.

Even without leverage, you’d think the Magic could have gotten more in return for the best defensive player in the league.

Winners: Philadelphia 76ers, Andrew Bynum

The Sixers clearly used savvy management to turn their glut of wing players into the second best center in the league, all while staying under the radar and out of the media spotlight. Philly gave up Andre Iguodala, Nikola Vucevic, Moe Harkless, and a future first-round pick to get Bynum, who clearly has the talent to make them a formidable team in the East and badly needed a change of scenery.

Perhaps the Sixers aren’t a favorite in the East, but Bynum immediately becomes the conference’s best center, and they’ve accumulated enough depth at the wings to try to replace what they’ll lose by giving up Iguodala.

Things couldn’t have worked out much better for Bynum in this deal, as he moves to a promising young team that will now be built around him. He’ll get all the touches he can handle on a playoff team with room for improvement.

Loser: Denver Nuggets

While some will argue that the Nuggets didn’t give up much to get All-Star and defensive stalwart Iguodala, I’m struggling to see how the acquisition fits into their long-term plan. Iguodala isn’t the premier scorer that will put Denver into contention in the West, and his contract over the next three years will be expensive as he drifts into his age 30 season and out of the prime of his career.

After extending JaVale McGee this offseason, the Nuggets will have a great deal of their salary cap invested in McGee and Iguodala, which shouldn’t inspire too much fear among their Western Conference rivals.

Long term, the Nuggets might have been better off preserving their cap flexibility and retaining Afflalo, who has a similar skill set to that of Iguodala.

Winners: Arron Afflalo, Moe Harkless, Nikola Vucevic

We’ve seen how losing a superstar can set back a franchise in Cleveland, and this trade launches Orlando into similar territory. However, the young players involved in this deal must view this as an opportunity to they belong in the NBA.

Afflalo will become perhaps the most potent scorer in Orlando after scoring 15 points per game as a role player for the Nuggets last season, and he will be handed all the minutes and scoring chances he can handle.

Vucevic will be given an opportunity to win the starting center spot as a stretch-five, which he would likely not have on most other teams.

Meanwhile, Harkless’ path to the NBA got a lot smoother by getting out of Philadelphia, a team with plenty of players at his position, and moving to a team that will be more than willing to work with him as a developmental project.

Losers: Jason Richardson, Al Harrington

It’s never a good sign for veterans when they’re used as supplementary pieces in blockbuster trades like these, and unfortunately Richardson and Harrington find themselves in that position. Richardson moves into a crowded wing position in Philly, who added Nick Young and Dorell Wright in the offseasonto compete for shooting guard and small forward minutes alongside Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young. At age 31 with four years remaining on his contract, Richardson may struggle to see the same compliment of minutes to which he’s accustomed if the Sixers stick with their young players.

Harrington had carved out a nice niche off the bench in Denver, and while he may not see a dip in minutes with the Magic, the veteran forward will not sniff playoff contention for at least a few years in the midst of Orlando’s rebuilding project.

Loser: San Antonio Spurs

Sure, the Spurs weren’t directly involved in this trade, but their road to title contention just got much tougher with the news of this trade. With their aging core of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, the Spurs are clearly built to win now, but the Lakers may have just emphatically shut their window by adding Howard and Nash.

San Antonio might look back at last season as being their last realistic chance at reaching the Finals, and the Spurs will be even more disappointed that they were unable to take advantage of their 2-0 lead over the Thunder in the Western Conference Finals.

2012 Team USA Is No Dream Team

We could beat them.

The message was already unmistakably clear as Kobe Bryant quickly began fawning over the MJ-in-his-prime-led 1992 Dream Team, backtracking from any potential media-driven dispute he might have sparked.

Regardless, the message was clear: according to at least one of the leaders on the 2012 Olympic USA basketball team, this year’s squad could have beaten the previously-undisputed greatest Olympic basketball team ever assembled.

Bryant’s actual quote was simple, unassuming, lacking of deep implication. What he said — “I don’t know. It’d be a tough one, but I think we’d pull it out,” referencing the current Team USA’s chances at beating the 1992 version — was modest enough, especially by the superstar guard’s standards.

What perpetuated an otherwise-calm statement, aside from Bryant’s well-documented otherworldly competitiveness and penchant for publicly insinuating his alpha dog demeanor and competitive fire, was that the comment probably isn’t far off from the truth.

Assuming “far off” implies earning a silver medal just behind Team USA Dream Team #1, of course.

Bryant represents a sports enigma that has never been duplicated. Never has a player of any sport been so fiercely backed by people on two completely opposite spectrums as Bryant has. While some call it swagger, others call it arrogance. Some say he has a competitive drive unmatched, others pronounce him a loose cannon always on the verge of blaming others. He is called a scorer with a knowledge for when to pass and when to shoot, or a black hole that swallows up possessions mercilessly. Both sides can be debated flawlessly with statistics, reason, or talking-heads’ logic. Regardless, dude wins, and wins often.

As soon as he opened his mouth and gave his Olympic squad unprecedented props at the hands of the 1992 Dream Team, however, he began a game that will ultimately go down in Mr. Bryant’s rarely-touched “L” column.

Perhaps it already has. With Team USA’s “narrow” 80-69 win over Brazil last Monday and an even tighter 86-80 win against Argentina Sunday, any critics who were on the fence upon first hearing Bryant’s statement, myself included, have quickly hopped to the 1992 Dream Team’s side of the metaphorical fence.

That’s not to say Bryant’s statement, as is generally the case in all pro-and-anti-Bryant arguments, isn’t still completely up for legitimate debate in either direction.

The 1992 Dream Team did have an over-the-hill Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, yes. They also had bigger, slower players on the team compared to this year’s current all-star collection. And, of course, the one argument that keeps me from completely believing that the current Olympic squad wouldn’t stand a chance: the athleticism on MJ’s squad was certainly secondary.

That’s no disrespect to “His Airness,” or any of the other Hall-of-Famers on the 1992 squad. But what other Olympic squad in NBA history had a full line-up of players who could not only dunk, but do so well, point-guard-through-center? Aside from Kevin Love (big, but not explosive) and perhaps Chris Paul (too small-in-stature and not explosive enough to bring down the house with a dunk), this Team USA squad is stacked with high-fliers and aerial killers capable of putting nearly every member of the 1992 Dream Team on a poster.

That being said, Kobe’s militia of athletic freaks doesn’t play basketball like MJ’s Hall-of-Famers. From Charles Barkley to Chris Mullin, the real Dream Team was fraught with Springfield immortals, a far cry from this year’s squad. Aside from Kevin Durant, LeBron James, and Bryant himself, no other player on the roster is a lock for the NBA Hall of Fame. In time, perhaps, but not now. Not in London. Not in 2012.

The modifiers Bryant used in his statement weren’t as far off as Jordan’s mockingly-shocked reaction would indicate. That’s just two of the greatest basketball players of all-time defending their competitive turf. Perhaps Bryant’s squad would beat the H.O.F.-laden 1992 Olympic basketball squad.

But until we see it, could might even be a slight stretch of the imagination for the 2012 squad’s chances at taking down the Dream Team.

Bad Planning Costs The Knicks

Any fan of the New York Knicks has inevitably wrestled internally with inescapable truth that owner James Dolan is controlling the team, for better or for worse. Whether this resigns the Knicks to perpetual mediocrity is debatable, but disapproval of Dolan’s reign atop the franchise has been harsh and frequent.

Of all the criticism Knicks fans have given Dolan, the one thing you can’t say about the owner is that he’s afraid to spend.

Perpetually over the salary cap, Dolan has exhibited a willingness to spend into the luxury cap—wherein he has to pay a penalty for player contracts that exceed the cap—in order to land his next big target. Whether he’s spending his money in the right places is the product of criticism.

After all the years that the Knicks have spent in the luxury tax from the massive contracts of underachieving players, many fans are frustrated that Dolan chose to draw a line in the sand with the Houston Rockets’ backloaded offer to Jeremy Lin, the underdog point guard who set the league on fire for 25 games last season.

However, it’s hard to blame Dolan for being unwilling to match Lin’s offer, which would reportedly cost him $43 million in the third year of the contract due to salary cap penalties, especially when he’s unsure of whether Lin’s run was an aberration or an indication of what’s to come.

What we do know is the contract Carmelo Anthony termed “ridiculous” became all the more absurd when you consider the luxury tax penalties Dolan will be paying in the third year of the contract for being over the league’s tax line.

You could argue that Dolan’s hands are tied in this case, but poor decision-making with regards to the cap has only tightened the rope around his wrists. A slew of bad management decisions ultimately cost the Knicks a chance to keep their budding star and marketing bell cow.

Though it’s still too early to criticize the max contracts of Anthony and Amare Stoudemire, the Knicks’ decision to use the amnesty clause on newly-signed Chauncey Billups is looming large with regards to cap room.

Shortly after the 2010-11 season, the Knicks were faced with the choice of whether to pick up Billups’ one-year, $13 million option for the following season. Not wanting to be left without a point guard after a lockout-shortened offseason, the team picked up his option.

But after the lockout introduced the amnesty clause, which allowed teams to take one big contract off their salary cap to save cap space, the Knicks used their amnesty on Billups in order to make room for a sign and trade for Tyson Chandler, who turned out to be last year’s Defensive Player of the Year.

While it was necessary to do so in order to acquire Chandler, the Knicks sacrificed the right to future cap flexibility by using their amnesty on Billups, whom they had just resigned by picking up his option. Had they declined his option, the team would still have the amnesty in their back pocket, available to use on a massive contract (like Stoudemire’s) to clear cap room for a player like Lin, whose contract would be much more affordable without the luxury tax penalties.

The Knicks also made mistakes by signing veterans Jason Kidd and Marcus Camby to three-year deals, which took up cap space in the much-maligned third year of Lin’s deal. Both Kidd and Camby will be well into their 40’s by the time they are in the third year of their contracts.

Since the third year of Camby’s deal is only partially guaranteed, the contracts of Kidd and Camby will cost the Knicks about $5 million against the cap in that third year. Because the luxury tax hits rise incrementally, the final $5 million dollars of Lin’s third year would be taxed $12 million, as that portion is taxed at a rate of $2.50 for every dollar. Thus, the team could have saved $12 million by giving Camby and Kidd one less year to avoid the tax hit in the third year.

Although they weren’t faced with the final offer sheet when they made their final deals for the veterans, the Knicks knew the Rockets were contemplating backloading Lin’s offer sheet to make it tougher for the Knicks to match. By taking on extra contracts in that crucial third year, the Knicks only made it tougher on themselves.

The Knicks can call the contract as “ridiculous” all they want, but they have themselves to blame for losing out on the man they morphed into a celebrity. Now he will take his star to Houston, where the Rockets will enjoy the fruits of “Linsanity.”