The NBA trade deadline is fast approaching with the arrival of All-Star Weekend.
Dwight Howard has been at the center of trade rumors because of his struggles with the Los Angeles Lakers. L.A. has spent almost the entire year under .500 and may not make the playoffs.
Howard’s stats have suffered, as well. His 16.3 points per game is the lowest since his second year in the league, and his rebounding average is the lowest it’s been since he was a rookie.
The Lakers brass has publicly stated that they intend to keep Howard. In a recent interview with Newsday, general manager Mitch Kupchak said the Howard will stay with the club for the rest of the season.
“We will not make a trade,” said Kupchak. “We will not trade Dwight Howard. We have no intention of making a trade. It’s unlikely that we’ll make any trade with any of our principal players. To make another change at this time of the year being behind the eight-ball like we are, I think that would just make it more difficult. The talent is there. We have to find our way.”
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The health of owner Jerry Buss may also force the team to stand pat. Buss, 80, has been hospitalized at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. The Los Angeles Times has reported that he has an undisclosed form of cancer.
The Lakers want to hold on to Howard and re-sign him in the summer. At 25-29, though, L.A. may be realizing that they can’t win with this current roster.
If Howard were to be traded, here are the three most likely destinations for the All-Star:
The Hawks are the best potential trading partner for the Lakers because both clubs have star players that will be free agents in the summer.
Josh Smith will be looking to sign a maximum-salary contract in the offseason, but Atlanta might be wary of giving him that much money. They would almost certainly be willing to trade a package of Smith and Kyle Korver for Howard. Smith isn’t as good as Howard, but it’s the best deal L.A. would get.
The trade would also give both teams something that they need. The Hawks are reportedly looking for a center in return for Smith. With Nash at point guard, Kobe Bryant at shooting guard and Pau Gasol in the frontcourt, the 6-foot-9 Smith would fit perfectly in the Lakers starting lineup.
Atlanta would also take a chance on Howard because they have a reasonable shot of re-signing him. Howard is from Atlanta and might decide to stay with his hometown club.
The Rockets have been after Howard since he was playing for the Orlando Magic. They’ve been trying to save cap space to land him in the offseason, but would make a trade if the opportunity presented itself.
Houston wouldn’t be able to offer any superstars to Los Angeles. James Harden is their best player and they wouldn’t include him in a deal for Howard. A package of Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik and draft picks might be the best they can do.
The Lakers wouldn’t be getting equal value for Howard, but would acquire two players that can help their team. Asik is one of the better defenders and rebounders in the game, and Lin would give the team a legitimate option at point guard if Nash were to get injured again.
Of all the teams that could end up with Howard, Dallas might be the center’s preferred destination. He would be able to play alongside another superstar in Dirk Nowitzki, and Marc Cuban has proven to be an owner that will do what it takes to win.
Unfortunately for the Mavericks, they don’t have many assets that would help the Lakers. O.J. Mayo is the club’s biggest trade piece, but Los Angeles is already set at shooting guard with Bryant.
Dallas would likely have to get a third team involved to get a deal done. Mayo has a favorable contract for a player that is averaging 17.9 points per game. However, their best option of landing Howard is, probably, by waiting for free agency.