NBA Lockout Could Make Celtics Favorite to Acquire All-Star Center Dwight Howard


NBA Lockout Could Make Celtics Favorite to Acquire All-Star Center Dwight Howard Celtics fans: if it came down to it, would which of these would you prefer?

A. The 2011-12 NBA season
B. No season, but Dwight Howard in Celtics’ green come the 2012-13 season.

Seems like a ridiculous hypothetical, but believe it or not, the NBA lockout may have a direct influence on the dominating center heading to Boston.

If the dispute is resolved and there ends up being a 2011-12 season, the Celtics’ chance of landing Howard is greatly reduced. While many of the teams pursuing the five-time All-Star seem to possess the assets to acquire Howard in a trade, the Celtics do not. It’s doubtful Orlando would want aging stars like Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, and it’s unlikely that the Celtics would include point guard Rajon Rondo in any discussions for the defending Defensive Player of the Year.

That leaves Jeff Green (assuming he stays with the Celtics), Avery Bradley and JaJuan Johnson as the only valuable, available trade chips the C’s have. There’s no way that package would compare to the Lakers offering Andrew Bynum or even the Nets dangling young center Brook Lopez.

It’s likely that if Howard is traded, he won’t reach free agency. If he’s swapped to another team, expect that team to sign him to an extension — or at least have a deal in place. No team would risk trading young assets without knowing Howard would re-sign.

The Magic would also have an opportunity to make a trade for an impact player to play besides Howard. There were rumors of Chris Paul heading to Orlando last summer, but those talks have seemed to cool.

Aside from trades, the Magic would have exclusive rights to negotiate with Howard throughout the season, something other teams wouldn’t have the opportunity to do until the offseason.

Therefore, without an NBA lockout, the Celtics would need to hope that Howard isn’t traded or signed by the Magic prior to him reaching free agency. It seems unlikely he’d get that far, considering Orlando’s desire to either keep him or get compensation. If the Magic believe they have no shot at re-signing him, they’ll likely ship him off.

But with an NBA lockout and no 2011-12 season, the Celtics’ chances of landing the second coming of Superman would increase. There’s no telling what the next collective bargaining agreement may look like, but it’s almost insignificant in regards to the C’s pursuit of Howard.

With no NBA season, the Magic would be unable to trade their star, resulting in Howard reaching free agency. Considering he’s the most dominant center — if not player — in the league, it’d be silly for him to not test free agency waters.

That’s where the C’s benefit.

The Lakers and Dallas Mavericks may have the pieces to trade for Howard and the money to lure him to a long-term extension, but come the 2012 offseason, neither team would have enough cap room to get him as a free-agent.

So then it comes down to the teams with the cap room. Assuming every team with space would throw a maximum contract at Howard, it wouldn’t be a matter of a bidding war. It would instead come down to Howard’s decision of which opportunity is best for him.

Plenty of teams may have the room under the cap to acquire Howard, but the center is surely considering two things: a team’s market and a team’s chance to win now and in the future. Taking those two things into account, two teams would appear most likely to sign the franchise player: the New Jersey (Brooklyn) Nets and the Boston Celtics. Boston and Brooklyn are comparable in marketability for Dwight, so we can assume that the decision comes down to Howard’s best opportunity to win.

In New Jersey, Howard would team up with superstar point guard Deron Williams (assuming the Nets re-sign him). The team would have little remaining space left under the cap to fill out the roster, though, meaning coach Avery Johnson would be throwing out the likes of Travis Outlaw, Anthony Morrow and Damion James to play crucial minutes. Yikes.

Meanwhile, Howard would come to Boston with the potential to team up with Paul Pierce, Rondo and Green. Assuming Delonte West sticks around — he appears to like Boston, and coach Doc Rivers appears to like him — we’re looking at an initial roster of:

  • Point Guard: Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley
  • Shooting Guard: Delonte West, E’Twaun Moore
  • Small Forward: Paul Pierce
  • Power Forward: Jeff Green, JaJuan Johnson
  • Center: Dwight Howard

The Celtics could capitalize on Pierce and Green’s versatility to squeeze Johnson into the starting lineup if need be. Also, it’s easy to forget that the two players whose expiring salaries allow this signing to happen — Allen and Garnett — could still be valuable in 2012, especially if they’re only relied on as number four or five options.

You don’t think that Allen, who has made nearly $170 million in his career, or Garnett, who has made more than $270 million in his career, would be willing to take a deal worth $5 million to stick around? Assuming that Bird Rights are still included in the next collective bargaining agreement, Boston would be allowed to exceed the salary cap to re-sign these two. Take into account that the duo just got to rest for an entire season, and Boston may be celebrating Banner 18.

Everyone likely wants to avoid a season-long lockout. The C’s have a unique opportunity to capitalize on the work stoppage, though, and acquire that key piece for a potential dynasty.

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