NBA Trade Rumors: Dwight Howard and the Clippers

As most of you are aware at this point, Chris Sheridan reported yesterday that Dwight Howard has added the Clippers to the list of teams he would be willing to play for. While this is significant in that it represents another major milestone in the reimagination of the Clippers as an elite NBA franchise, it doesn't mean that Howard is going to be wearing red, white and blue any time soon.

First, let's look at what was said in Sheridan's story. The answer is, not a lot. According to a source, Howard has "been watching them a lot. He's intrigued by the Clippers." As such, the Clippers have joined the Lakers, Mavericks and Nets on Howard's list of preferred destinations.

So that's great, right? Next season we'll be cheering for Chris Paul, Blake Griffin AND Dwight Howard! That trio would be better than any other big three in the league by a wide margin. Start ordering the banners!

There's just one problem: how is it going to happen? As much power as star player's have these days, they still can't just walk into the opponent's locker room and put on a different uniform like Coffee Black. Some sort of a transaction, either a trade or a free agent signing, is going to have to take place, and Orlando's not going to trade him for a washing machine.

In the aftermath of the CP3 acquisition, the Clippers have very few tradeable assets. If you'll recall, NBA Commissioner David Stern, on behalf of the Hornets, asked for basically everything of interest that the Clippers had, and the deal was eventually agreed to for everything except Eric Bledsoe. The Clippers can't even really include a future first round pick without putting lots of restrictions on it, since they already owe a restricted pick to Boston (through Oklahoma City, in the original Bledsoe deal). Besides, given that the Clippers are now a good team, their first round picks no longer have the lottery cache they once did.

So the best the Clippers could offer for Howard would be DeAndre Jordan and Eric Bledsoe and pieces. Obviously any deal would include taking back Hedo Turkoglu's nasty contract, but do the Clippers really have significantly more useful players to send back to Orlando in that extra salary? Is Caron Butler an upgrade over Turkoglu? Sure, but does Orlando really want Butler's contract if they're starting over without Howard? Is Mo Williams an upgrade over Jameer Nelson? Not a major one. Let's face it - if Blake Griffin and Chris Paul are off limits in a Howard deal (which one presumes they are for many reasons, not least because the Clippers would likely drop off Howard's list if they lost either one of them), there's really not much of interest to offer Orlando beyond Jordan and Bledsoe.

Meanwhile, the Lakers can build a package around Andrew Bynum, and that offer would trump anything the Clippers could do short of including Griffin or Paul.

If the Clippers were the ONLY team on Howard's list (as when Carmelo Anthony forced his way to New York) then Orlando might have no choice but to accept whatever they could get from the LAC. But as long as there are other suitors amenable to Dwight, and specifically as long as the Lakers are dangling Bynum, there is no Clippers trade package I can imagine that Orlando would accept.

That leaves free agency. Both New Jersey and Dallas are positioned to clear the cap space necessary to offer Howard a maximum contract next summer. It would be next to impossible for the Clippers to do the same. Paul and Griffin will make $25M combined next year, and we've already established that they are not in play. Jordan ($10.5M), Williams ($8.5M), Butler ($8M), Gomes ($4M) and Bledsoe ($1.7M) are on the books for another $33M or so. You'd have to find Howard's salary more or less in that $33M. Obviously, if it guaranteed landing Howard, the Clippers would happily dump Jordan and Williams and certainly Gomes. But (a) there are no guarantees and (b) it may not be so easy to dump these guys. You can amnesty one of them. Then, you have to try to find salary dump trades for the other two, either separately or together. Is it possible? I suppose so. Is it realistic or wise? Certainly not.

The bottom line is, it's nice to be on the list of approved teams. It's like the superstar seal of approval -- the Clippers have now been deemed worthy by Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and even LeBron James, so there's that. But there's almost no chance that Howard will actually become a Clipper, so for now we'll just have to be satisfied with being on the list.

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