Dwight Howard trade speculation has taken a surprising twist.
According to Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel, the Magic discussed a deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder. On Twitter, Schmitz posted: Magic have talked to OKC but Thunder balks at giving up Ibaka and Harden to rent Dwight.
Apparently, the Thunder turned down Howard in a deal that didn't involved Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook. Serge Ibaka is an athletic forward and is averaging 8.5 points and 7.8 rebounds per game, while gifted shooting guard James Harden, who is a frontrunner for Sixth Man of the Year award, is averaging a career-high 16.8 points per game.
In order for a such a deal to have worked it would require the inclusion of other players to fit for salary cap reasons. Kendrick Perkins would have almost certainly had to be included, as well as one of the following: Daequan Cook, Thabo Sefolosha or Nazr Mohammed.
There are two thoughts to take away from the purposed deal. First, the Thunder must be extremely confident in their team's chemistry if they feel they can turn down the best center in the NBA without sacrificing their two most important players. Second, the Magic are in fact taking offers for Howard, and not for star players.
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But perhaps the most important thing to take away from the proposed deal is that Howard's insistence to wait until the off-season to sign a contract is a major hold up for a possible trade. Teams don't want to give up key players only to have Howard for a few months.
The Thunder would have almost ensured their ticket to the NBA Finals this season with Howard. Once they got there, their chances of hoisting the Larry O'Brien trophy would be rather strong. While the Heat, who remain one of the favorites to come out of the East, have their Big Three, the Thunder's possible three-star tandem could be more difficult to contain.
Durant averages more points than LeBron James, Westbrook averages more points than Dwyane Wade, and Howard averages more points than Chris Bosh. Scoring statistics are often misleading, but imagine the problems a team like the Heat may have against a Thunder squad that had Howard.
It also may have made perfect sense to rent Howard for the sake of winning a title. The Thunder would still have a decent chance of re-signing the 26-year-old center, and if that was the case, he would be the oldest player of Oklahoma City's new Big Three, as Durant and Westbrook are both just 23. That trio could perhaps be together for the rest of the decade or beyond.
If Howard was indeed just a rental and moved on to another team, the Thunder could still be able to fill in the salary cap hole with serviceable player or players, and remain contenders in the West. By nixing the Howard trade, the Thunder hurt their chances of being the arguable frontrunner in win a title this year -- something that would have been a great boon for the franchise.
Orlando, on the other hand, may be taking a major risk in not trading Howard. The Magic may be banking on the idea that they can lure a star perimeter player like Deron Williams to the club to keep Howard. That's a major gamble, and perhaps a foolish one.
The Magic were burned before when Shaquille O'Neal fled Orlando for the Los Angeles Lakers in 1996, and could face being branded as a club where superstars flee as free agents.
Of course, Orlando could make things easy on themselves by simply accepting the Lakers' offer of Andrew Bynum, and spare parts. Like other clubs, the Lakers are reluctant to accept a deal with Howard without being assured he will stay longer.
The Magic can at least try to restart talks of a Howard-for-Bynum deal with the hope that Howard caves in signing an extension with Los Angeles. If the Magic were willing to accept Harden, Ibaka, and salary cap filler, certainly they can strongly reconsider Bynum.
Many believe Bynum is the second-best center in the league. He is averaging 16.7 points per game on a team where Kobe Bryant shoots more than any other player, and while big man Pau Gasol plays next to him in a fight for his Lakers life.
Bynum is only 24, and has been injury free this season, and is third in the NBA in rebounding and fifth in blocks. Indeed, he is excelent trade bait. However, talks have stalled with the Lakers, and Orlando can easily bring them back to the fold to ease the summer pressure of Howard's future with the Magic.
Meanwhile, the Mar. 15 deadline is less than a week away.
The clock is ticking for Magic general manager Otis Smith to decide Howard's fate.