With 48 hours to go before the trade deadline, the Dwight Howard saga has descended into madness. We officially reached rock bottom this morning, when ESPN.com’s Ric Bucher reported the Magic are prepared to offer Dwight Howard hiring and firing power over GM Otis Smith and head coach Stan Van Gundy, a nearly unfathomable bit of kowtowing, even if franchise players on Howard’s level might be rarer commodities than GMs and top-level head coaches.
The Magic have denied the report, saying only the team’s ownership will decide such things. And meanwhile, one of the league’s half-dozen best head coaches game plans for the Heat tonight.
And this afternoon comes word from Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports that Howard, regardless of the sweet nothings he may or may not be whispering to Magic CEO Alex Martins, has made up his mind and wants to bolt for New Jersey/Brooklyn as a free agent:
Howard is privately telling people the acquisition of an All-Star player and more complementary players could sway him to stay, league sources told Y! Sports’ Marc Spears, but that scenario is far-fetched given the limited appeal of Orlando’s trade assets.
Martins has improved the franchise’s relationship with Howard, multiple sources told Yahoo! Sports. But as one source talking to Martins and Howard said: “That’s great, but [Dwight’s] still going to leave.”
The Nets, per Wojnarowski, have a dream scenario, one I mentioned on Monday:
The New Jersey Nets are setting into a motion a plan to sign Howard, re-sign Deron Williams and keep restricted free agent Brook Lopez on an approximate $10 million annual salary, sources said. The Nets are working on several ways to shed several more million dollars of future payroll that will give them the flexibility to re-sign Lopez. The Nets and Charlotte Bobcats have had extensive talks on a deal that would send Boris Diaw’s expiring contract to New Jersey for several players and a first-round pick, sources said. The Nets could clear about $6.5 million in cap room with the trade.
The math on this depends upon a few variables, including the placement of the Nets’ draft pick, whether the Nets receive Houston’s lottery-protected pick via the Terrence Williams deal this season and whether Deron Williams’ opts in for 2012-13 rather than becoming a free agent and re-signing at a slightly higher price.
• the Nets pick in the No. 7 slot, which carries a Year 1 salary under the new CBA of a little more than $2.3 million
• the Nets decline every team option and renounce their rights to every outgoing free agent save Lopez, so that they may match any competing offer for him in restricted free agency
• Jordan Farmar and Shawne Williams exercise their 2012-13 player options worth $4.25 million and $3.135 million, respectively.
• Williams is feeling generous and opts in for 2012-13 at a salary around $17.8 million, postponing free agency one year and foregoing a slightly higher 2012-13 salary.
Add in minimum-salary charges for empty roster spots and Lopez’ $7.7 million cap hold — the charge that sits on New Jersey’s books as the price for keeping matching rights — and the Nets’ payroll for 2012-13 heading into free agency would be about $46.1 million, leaving them just short of $12 million in cap room to chase the big fella. Howard is eligible for a maximum salary of $18.996 million next season. The Nets, in other words, would be $7 million short of achieving this dream scenario, and there is no way to achieve it without shedding salary before free agency begins.
They could carve out max-level cap room by renouncing their rights to Lopez (and thus lopping off the $7.7 million hold), but he’s as good as gone if they do that. Half the league could have major cap room this summer, and one of those teams would surely offer Lopez a hefty salary the Nets could not approach. It’s easy to suggest the Nets should happily cut ties with Lopez in order to snag the second-best player in the league, especially because that player fills the same position as Lopez. But you need to fill out a competitive roster around star players. The Heat have three star players, and they are a different team this season in part because they have developed and acquired quality depth they did not have last season. If the Nets can pull this off without surrendering Lopez or promising rookie Marshon Brooks, they will have obviously hit a home run. Keeping Anthony Morrow would provide spacing and wing depth, and Hedo Turkoglu’s deal would not be on New Jersey’s books.
If New Jersey wants to keep Lopez at market price, they have to shed salary now. Dealing Farmar and Petro — one a redundant piece, the other just plain bad — for Diaw’s expiring deal would get the job done, and the Bobcats would take in another lottery pick — probably the Nets’ own 2012 pick — as the price for having every NBA die-hard remind them in perpetuity of their role in helping enable a big-market Eastern Conference team to sign a star from a mid-market rival. The Bobcats are rebuilding, and they at some point will have to hand over a first-round pick to the Bulls dating to the 2010 Tyrus Thomas deal, which hasn’t exactly worked out yet. Snagging Farmar would also allow Charlotte to part with D.J. Augustin, a restricted free agent this summer, and feel little sting. It helps that Farmar has been forced to play off the ball a lot in New Jersey, given Williams’ presence; he’d have to split ball-handling duties with Kemba Walker in Charlotte.
The Nets and Magic could also work a two-way sign-and-trade in the offseason, but that could get tricky. They may also be able to the use new stretch exception to waive a player (Shawne Williams) and stretch the cap out several years into the future, but “stretching” one player may not be enough to open up enough room, and stretching multiple players at once is problematic.
Oh, and Sean Deveney of the Sporting News reports the Magic would like to re-engage the Lakers in talks over an Andrew Bynum-centered deal for Howard.
Just a couple of days of this to go.