The Philadelphia 76ers are one of a handful of teams relieved that Dwight Howard is now with the Brooklyn Nets. Sixers fans like myself weren't looking forward to Howard joining Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, which would have put the Nets further up the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference elite.
But with Brooklyn settling for resigning Brook Lopez at center instead on July 11, it seems that this worst case scenario will not play out - for this summer anyway. As such, the Boston Celtics can breathe a sigh of relief and remain the team to beat in the Atlantic, while the Sixers haven't fallen further behind the Nets in the Atlantic pecking order.
Of course, just because the Nets can't seem to land Howard at this moment doesn't mean it will never happen. If the Orlando Magic send him to a team like the Houston Rockets, there is little chance he will stay with them beyond the 2012 season. Then he can go to free agency in 2013 and the Nets can finally throw all the money they want at him with no interference - depending on how much they have left.
If Williams, Johnson and the new look Nets do gel together and have an impressive season, it will make them even more feared if they get Howard in 2013. In that scenario, the likes of the Celtics and Sixers will have a brief window of opportunity in 2012, before the Nets finally become a super team and are poised to control the Atlantic. Yet the Sixers will have more room in 2013 to land a big free agent of their own and try to keep pace.
But if the Magic send Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers instead, there's obviously a better chance that he can stay there. Putting Howard with Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash in Los Angeles is a better way to win a championship than pairing him with Williams and Johnson in Brooklyn. Yet Howard has been adamant that he only wants to join the Nets - although a big year with the Lakers could help convince him to stay in L.A. for a while.
In that case, the Nets would have to further resign themselves to defeat and find another way to leap over the Celtics and Miami Heat. Lopez can give them a lot at center, at least while he is healthy, but he is not the game-changer that Howard is. And without him to change the game in the Atlantic Division, the Celtics are still the favorites while the Nets, Sixers and New York Knicks fight to be the best of the rest.
Still, if Howard is really that fixated on joining the Nets - even at the expense of the Lakers, of all franchises - he could still find a way. If he's truly committed, it wouldn't be that far-fetched anymore if he retired for a season rather than go back to Orlando, or go anywhere that isn't Brooklyn. Such a twist is pretty much the only thing missing from this mad saga, other than Howard in a Nets uniform.
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident and 76ers fan.
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