After agreeing to acquire Joe Johnson from the Atlanta Hawks yesterday, it appeared the Brooklyn Nets’ days of wheeling and dealing were done. With Johnson’s nearly 20 million dollar cap number on the books for next season, the Nets lost most of the flexibility afforded them by the expiring contracts of players already on their roster. After agreeing with Gerald Wallace on a very rich and questionable 4 year, 40 million dollar deal, conventional wisdom said Brooklyn was done chasing players on the open market and would be relegated to re-signing its own free agents, namely Williams, Brook Lopez, and perhaps Kris Humphries. And despite the organization’s apparent failure to pair Williams with a legitimate superstar like Dwight Howard, the Nets had surrounded Williams with at least as much top-tier talent as he’s ever played with, seemingly enough to make them the front-runners to retain his services.
A quartet of Williams-Johnson-Wallace-Lopez is a good start for any team, and with MarShon Brooks and potentially Humphries in the fold, too, Brooklyn seemed poised to reach heights the franchise hadn’t seen in nearly a decade. Enough to unseat Miami as favorites in the Eastern Conference or even join the list of legitimate Heat challengers led by Chicago and Boston? No on the first and not necessarily on the second, but this was a playoff team nonetheless, a squad the Borough could be excited about and get behind. All that was left was dotting Is and crossing Ts of Brooklyn’s own free agents.
Then rumors started flying that Dwight Howard was still on the Nets radar, and that the front office had already offered Orlando a package featuring Lopez, Brooks, and multiple first-round picks. Suddenly a Williams-Johnson-Wallace-Howard squad seemed attainable, and with it the Nets’ first legitimate dreams of a NBA title (the Jason Kidd-led teams of the early millennium was never seriously considered a challenge to the Lakers, obviously). Analysts even suggested a trade was very possible if not imminent, intimating the Orlando Magic were relatively pleased with the pieces Brooklyn was offering. On the surface, that doesn’t seem too crazy – Lopez, warts and all, is one of the game’s best young post scorers, Brooks is a young and talented shot-maker on the wing, and three first-round picks are nothing to scoff at. Combined with the limited but still significant cap relief Brooklyn could offer by agreeing to take on one of the Magic’s bad contracts, this seems a good and attainable deal. Again, on the surface.
Zach Lowe of SI’s The Point Forward, thankfully, refused to stoke the Howard-to-Brooklyn fire with a fine, incredibly detailed piece this morning. He intricately describes the major difficulties faced cap-wise for the Nets by a potential Howard deal, and surmises Brooklyn couldn’t give Orlando enough salary relief to make it worth the Magic’s while. Assuming the Nets could somehow find a way – and there are ways, just minute and complicated ones – around all the dollar problems of a trade and still take on one or two of Orlando’s bad contracts, would the actual bodies and assets going the Magic’s way be enough to trump the other offers that are already on the table or are likely to be? Succintly, no. Not close.
Houston, Golden State, Atlanta, the Lakers, and the Clippers all present Orlando with either better pieces, more, or both in a Howard trade. Part of the Dwight-to-Brooklyn crowd’s thought process is that those teams would ultimately be reluctant to acquire Howard with no assurances he’d sign an extension with his new team, something he has no problem personally indicating. Supposedly just one team is on his list, and that team is Brooklyn. Despite that, the Hawks and both teams from Los Angeles no doubt feel confident Howard would come around in the end and sign for the long-term; he’s from Atlanta and very good friends with Josh Smith, and playing in Hollywood is obviously appealing for all players but especially one with his out-sized persona. Houston and Golden State, meanwhile, don’t appear averse to a one-year rental of Howard as each is in desperate search for league-wide relevancy to appease frustrated fan bases.
Considering Brooklyn’s difficult road to making the money work with Orlando (especially after the acquisition of Mirza Teletovic), Howard donning black and white seems unlikely. Combined with the other offers out there that clearly trump the Nets’, and his acquisition seems an altogether impossibility. So don’t be fooled by the new and popular narrative purported by some major members of the media; as long as suitors like those mentioned here remain, Dwight’s not headed to Brooklyn.