Players kind of like to be wooed. They like to feel in control in a season that could see them walking away from nearly half of their games internally chewing out their teammates, coaching staff or fan base. They want security, to be sure, but they also want to be in charge. And they don't want to promise to sign a contract extension as a stipulation that would lead to a trade to a team they're unfamiliar with.
This is why the various general managers involved in Dwight Howard trade talks need to back off a bit, and understand what they're dealing with. Yes, relatively early in an offseason, it's a smart move to dig in and demand that someone like Howard or Andrew Bynum agree to a contract extension (obviously, for the full amount they're NBA-legal to give) because you still have 10 weeks until media day hits and training camp starts. Eventually, though, you're going to have to back off.
For a few weeks, this may have been the major sticking point between any deal that would send Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers, as recently confirmed by Yahoo! Sports' Marc Spears. ESPN Los Angeles is reporting that the Lakers might want to move ahead even without Howard committing to the team beyond his current contract, which expires after next season. We think this is the right move, which would apparently then lead to the Big Move.
That Big Move, a deal for Howard, would then lead to the sort of consternation that Houston Rockets general manger Daryl Morey has just about staked his career on — forcing a tough 2013 decision out of Dwight as he attempts to find a suitable team with cap space (his heroes in Brooklyn won't have any) while turning down tens of millions of dollars from the team that he played with in 2012-13 to go elsewhere. Morey clearly is convinced Howard won't turn down that sort of money to jump to what would be his third team in a year.
And we're convinced, mainly because this is the man who didn't have the guts to look like a bad dude in front of his teammates before he picked up his player option with Orlando for the 2012-13 season, that Howard will have an impossible time saying "no" to whatever team he's with. Be it Houston, Los Angeles, or just about any squad outside of Orange County. That's in Florida, by the way.
This is why the Lakers need to move now, without those assurances. Yes, Howard might balk at the idea of following too closely in the footsteps of Shaquille O'Neal, as Spears pointed out, in leaving Orlando for the Lakers. That's a temporary fear, though, because Howard won't be asked (as Shaq was, after coming to the Lakers as a free agent in 1996) to pose for a cover with various ex-Lakers for Sports Illustrated. He'll be looked upon as a piece of the puzzle, unlike O'Neal (who was clearly the franchise player immediately after putting pen to paper one month after the Lakers traded for Kobe Bryant) -- even if Howard would be the best player on a Lakers team featuring Bryant, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol.
That's a fearsome unit, with the only worry coming in the form of Howard's impending free agency. Free agency that could see him attempting to flee to another team after potentially winning his first championship with the greatest point and shooting guard of the post-Jordan era.
Think about the machinations that would have to lead to that jump. Howard, currently without an agent, would have to seek out a team to his liking with cap space, or attempt a sign and trade with a possibly unwilling Lakers squad. All while turning down tens of millions of dollars and another guaranteed year on his contract with the Lakers. Or Rockets, even.
That's too brash a move for a guy that, if the Los Angeles Times' T.J. Simers is to be believed (we've had a fitful day, so it's possible that this column was written with tongue placed firmly in cheek), can't decide on what dessert to down.
He took forever, and when he began to recite out loud "eeny, meeny, miny, moe,"' I asked him if that was how he was going to pick where he played.
He mimicked as if he would, saying "this team and that team," but unfortunately stopping when his attention returned to the desserts.
THAT'S the guy that is going to stick to whatever team trades for him next summer? Bloody hell. Even Zooey Deschanel wants Dwight Howard to grow a pair. She said as much before drawing cat whiskers on her cheeks before her daily afternoon ukulele strum.
The same, to a far lesser extent, goes for Andrew Bynum. Should he land in Cleveland or Orlando, he'll be forced to leave significant money on the table to go elsewhere when his contract ends next summer. We're not telling you that it's all about the money, but it's pretty damn close to being all about the money.
That's OK, you know. It also means Bynum would stay in Cleveland to form a potential burgeoning powerhouse with Kyrie Irving, or in Orlando to helm GM Rob Hennigan's rebuilding project forged with considerable smarts gleaned from working with the Oklahoma City Thunder. It would also mean Howard would end up on a team with 70-win potential in Los Angeles … or in Houston. Yes, the cheery aspect of this only goes so far. Sorry Rockets fans, but your team has been gutted.
NBA players, for all their ability to destroy a season and dominate a franchise, still feel as if they're powerless. That's their choice, of course, when they decline to sign a series of one year deals and take the most from what a team is giving them. In Howard's defense, the Orlando Magic's previous GM did not do a good job of surrounding him with talent outside of the coach that Howard so sharply disagreed with in Stan Van Gundy. Dwight wants to be in charge. In terms he probably understands, he wants to have his cake and eat it, too.
Now it's time for Orlando's potential trading partners -- and the Magic themselves -- to understand this. Don't ask for an extension now. And then act like it was the player's idea when he eventually agrees to it in 2013.
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