Former Lakers legend and champion NBA general manager Jerry West did not mention disgruntled Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard by name in his radio interview when he chided teams for not calling a player's bluff on trade demands, but it's pretty clear who he's talking about. With Carmelo Anthony in New York and Chris Paul in Los Angeles, Dwight's just about the only one left actively seeking a new home via trade.
Unless you count Chris Kaman. And nobody should.
Here's the quote, via ESPN Los Angeles:
"I honestly think I'd call their bluff," West said in an interview on 710 ESPN's Mason and Ireland show Thursday, not mentioning Howard specifically. "I really would, because I don't think any agent or player is going to leave $30 million on the table.
"I just don't believe that's going to happen."
On paper, especially with the NBA's new collective bargaining agreement aiding more than ever in making it tough for teams to want to leave their current homes once free agency hits, West's saber-rattling on behalf of GMs rings true. Let Howard try to find his way with a terrible New Jersey Nets team (that would be gutted even more, should they attempt to clear space to sign Dwight) next year, or some other group with cap space. Let him leave sunny Florida and the lack of income tax for less money elsewhere.
Way less, actually. And for a shorter amount of time.
The problem this time around is that it almost looks as if West is picking and choosing his spots. And he's in a good place to do so. Yes, the Magic have been run terribly of late, but the sheer lack of assets available in a trade for Howard (with a team like the Nets, or the Golden State Warriors) also make it easier for even a terrible GM (and Orlando's Otis Smith is a bad GM) to decline a deal. On top of that, the penalties for leaving are even greater this time around, and no team on Howard's wish list (save for the woeful Nets) will have the space to sign Howard to even the limited (in comparison to what he'd receive from the Magic) contract next summer.
On top of that, the Magic (with an engaged Howard) could actually do some damage in the playoffs despite its recent swoon, and it's not as if Smith is going to make a New Jersey Net the starting center in this month's All-Star game when it's held in Orlando.
Howard is still gone, we're pretty sure, come July. But this is an easy call for Smith and West. Assuming the Lakers don't re-enter the mix with Howard's All-Star counterpart in Andrew Bynum on the ready.
This other radio interview that West put together? This is tricky:
"If I were an executive on a team where a player says he's going to leave, let him leave," West said on 710 ESPN's Max and Marcellus show earlier Thursday. "It would be better than saddling yourself with a bunch of players that are not going to fit in to what you're trying to do -- high-salaried players, in many cases overpaid players by today's standards, that would burden you going forward.
"I'd almost rather start over again myself. You're not going to replace that player, but there's an enormous penalty there and it looks like to me like the inmates are running the asylum if you let that happen."
If you'll recall, the Warriors were rumored to be putting a package together for Howard that would fit expiring parts and a few salvageable players for Howard. And, though he isn't the face of the franchise, West still works for the Warriors as a consultant. Essentially, West is warning the Magic (OK, OK: "an executive on a team where a player says he's going to leave") not to take exactly the sort of package Golden State would be offering. And what New Orleans, with the disgruntled Kaman and Eric Gordon, got back for Chris Paul.
That's a refreshing bit of honesty. Especially with a little while to go before the trade deadline and a pell-mell type like Otis Smith potentially on the other end of the phone in a few weeks, desperate to get something for Howard.
We were in favor of Smith trying to get something, anything, for Howard last fall. But after needlessly re-signing Jason Richardson and Glen Davis to two too-big deals, the Magic have to drag Howard along as long as they can and either hope for that slim chance that he'll return, or take whatever cap freedom they'll get with a clean break. This team could get a "clean break" by offering Howard up later this month for all expiring deals, but why waste the income and run of a potential play into May just for what you're about to get for Howard anyway plus some potential draft picks in the low first round?
In all, a fascinating pair of interviews with West. He could be upset and wanting to undermine his new bosses in Golden State, terrifically candid, or pulling the bluff to overcome Howard's bluff. Either way, more please.