12:39 pm Jan. 8, 2013
Last summer, a full year of rumors linking the Brooklyn Nets and center Dwight Howard appeared to reach a merciful conclusion.
Howard was traded by the Orlando Magic to the Los Angeles Lakers instead. The Nets signed Brook Lopez to a long-term contract. Howard, now the property of the Lakers, was expected to lead his new team to an extended playoff run and re-sign.
And even if Howard didn't re-sign with the Lakers, and hit free agency next summer, the Nets would be way over the salary cap and still couldn't sign him.
But Howard's time in Los Angeles has gone worse than anyone expected. Struggling after returning from back surgery, hasn't been the same player. He recently suffered a torn labrum in his shoulder, and will miss at least another week. But prior to that, he and Kobe Bryant quarreled. And the Lakers, sitting at 15-18, have begun to explore the possibility of trading Howard.
Now, the Daily News is asking, somewhat provocatively, whether the Nets might be interested in him again.
It's fair to ask, in reponse, why they would be.
(A team spokesman told me general manager Billy King had no comment on the prospect.)
The Nets' center, Lopez, has turned out to be anything but a consolation prize, with a Player Efficiency Rating ranked fifth in the entire league. He'd almost certainly be the main component of any deal for Howard; otherwise, it is hard to see how the Nets could effectively utilize both of them on the roster, or how else to entice the Lakers to make a deal.
Any argument for going after Howard (again) would have to go beyond how the two centers are playing now, though, and speaks to the roster the Nets have assembled.
Even in this impressive 5-1 period since P.J. Carlesimo took over as head coach, the Nets are seventh in the league in offensive efficiency, fifteenth in defensive efficiency. For the season, they are tenth offensively, 21st defensively.
It's not clear that the Nets, as constructed, can play efficient enough defense to leverage their offensive talent into a deep playoff run.
That is the case right now, with Brook Lopez playing at what is likely the top of his ability. That would certainly also be true with Dwight Howard playing as he has so far with the Lakers. But it isn't necessarily true with Howard playing as he did in Orlando.
The question for general manager Billy King, then, is whether taking a risk on Dwight Howard's health is any more dangerous than sticking with the current roster.
Lopez has been giving the Nets an awful lot, but Howard, when he's healthy, would give the Nets that scoring ability plus something else: an elite defender in the middle. (If you have any doubt that a strong defensive center can lift a whole team's defense, look no further than the extent to which Tyson Chandler turned last season's Knicks, a collection of indifferent defenders, into a top-five defense in the league.)
It would be a little crazy for the Nets to trade Lopez when he's been playing so well, especially if they keep winning under their new coach.
But at some point, if the Nets dip again and it looks like the team they put together is too limited to be a serious contender, the crazy option might just start to make sense.