Dwight Howard can get to Brooklyn, but the road's a mess
We don't know yet how the Dwight Howard saga will end, but we do know now what the sequence of events will look like if he's to end up on the Brooklyn Nets.
It's not a simple one.
The current trade being discussed is a 13-player, four-team extravaganza involving the Nets, the Orlando Magic, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Los Angeles Clippers. Along with Howard, the Nets would add shooting guard Jason Richardson, point guard Chris Duhon and forward Earl Clark. None of these players is particularly coveted by the Nets; taking on their salaries, and the salary-cap consequences, would be part of the cost of the transaction.
Orlando would end up with Brook Lopez, one of the worst rebounding centers in the league, to replace Howard, who is one of the best. They'd also receive a bushel full of players who are beside the point along with three first-round picks.
Cleveland would get Kris Humphries, who needed to be sent elsewhere to help the salaries line up, along with a first-round pick and $3 million from Brooklyn, along with Quentin Richardson and Sundiata Gaines.
The final part of the deal is a first-round pick from the Los Angeles Clippers for shooting guard MarShon Brooks, which would ultimately end up with the Magic.
This is a steal for the Nets, if it happens. For the price of a few draft picks (unlikely to be more than virtual second-round picks as long as Howard is teaming up with Joe Johnson and Deron Williams) and a scoring center with no useful role on a Dwight Howard team, the Nets would be adding one of the best players in the N.B.A.
The only notes of caution are the back surgery that ended Howard's 2011-12 season and the loss of Kris Humphries, whose regular double-doubles would be missed.
Interestingly, Humphries may be the reason this trade never comes to pass. For all the math to work, he needs to agree to a one-year deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He may well feel he deserves something better.
Consecutive seasons of strong rebounding and reasonably accurate shooting have made Humphries one of the more effective power forwards in the league. If Humphries spurns Cleveland and simply signs a deal somewhere else, the entire trade blows up.
It's not clear what it will mean that Humphries and Howard share an agent, with the agent more financially invested in Howard, but it's surely an uncomfortable situation. (Here he is, once again, at the mercy of more powerful, more famous interests.)
The Clippers don't appear to have a ton of motivation for making this trade either. MarShon Brooks was the 25th overall pick last year, out of Providence College. Brooks can shoot in volume and score plenty, but he doesn't do it at a particularly high percentage. And his defense is mediocre. So it is hard to see him as more than a bench option, particularly for a team that just agreed to a four-year, $25 million contract with Jamal Crawford, which is the best-case scenario for what Brooks can be when he grows up.
Then there's the question at the very center of the trade: Are Lopez and three draft picks enough inducement for Orlando to deal Dwight Howard? Or do they believe they can do better?
Howard has said he will only sign with Brooklyn, but that isn't worth taking seriously, even if Howard hadn't already demonstrated how little his word is worth on these questions. If Howard is traded elsewhere, the Nets cannot come close to offering him what he'd get on the free-agent market, let alone what any team acquiring him can pay him. He'd have to leave tens of millions of dollars on the table to join the Nets.
So any team dealing for Howard as a one-year rental also knows this: They'll be able to pay him more than any other suitor via free agency, while eliminating the Nets as serious competition, and get the chance to see Howard for a year after back surgery before committing to him long-term. That's a fairly strong set of reasons to pony up to Orlando.
The Magic appear accordingly unhurried about finalizing the deal, which will happen if no one makes a better offer to Orlando, the Cavs convince Humphries to come for a year, and the Clippers decide MarShon Brooks has a chance to be a star.
Which is a lot of ifs.
Elsewhere in New York sports:
The deal to bring Marcus Camby back to New York finally came together.
Steve Novak and J.R. Smith will return, both on extremely palatable deals.
A number of Mets and Yankees are participating in the All Star Game Tuesday night. Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano will start for the American League. R.A. Dickey, the National League's best starting pitcher, and David Wright, the league's best player, will start for—what's that? Wright lost the voting to Pablo Sandoval? And Tony La Russa elected to start Matt Cain over Dickey? Really.
Mariano Rivera, who had what is usually a season-ending injury in May, then had his surgery delayed until June due to a blood clot, is somehow ahead enough of schedule that he still might pitch in 2012. Which would be not-believable if it were anyone but Mariano Rivera.
Joba Chamberlain is expected to make his first rehab appearance Tuesday.