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Bill Simmons On The Mavs Possibly Trading For Dwight Howard

Bill Simmons traded emails with Zach Lowe, one of his Grantland NBA writers, about the state of the Los Angeles Lakers yesterday. The Mavs came up as a possible trade destination for embattled center/Ed Hardy fan Dwight Howard. Simmons’ reasoning:

It’s going to hinge on the team’s level of desperation. If you’re Dallas, you just blew a title defense AND the tail end of Dirk Nowitzki’s prime. You’re in NBA no-man’s land – fringe lottery, fringe playoffs – without a single under-27 player to build around unless you overpay O.J. Mayo. You’re also owned by someone who despises the word “irrelevant” in anything he’s doing, someone who took a pretty calculated risk allowing Tyson Chandler to leave that totally backfired. (Semi-related: How nice would Chandler be as a trade chip for Howard right now? Whoops.)

… That’s why the Mavs would roll the dice on Dwight no matter what. Either way, it’s going to be the best episode of Shark Tank ever.

I agree. That’s why the Mavs would trade for Howard. But could they?

Short answer: no.

The only way to make the contracts work in a way that would interest the Lakers is basically trading Howard straight up for Dirk Nowitzki. As I’ve told my Lakers-fan friend who texts me giddy with the idea, I sincerely doubt Mark Cuban would trade Nowitzki. For anyone. I mean, sure, he’d trade Dirk for Kevin Durant or LeBron James, but I think the list ends there.

But should he?

Again, no.

Dirk will be somewhere close to his pre-surgery form soon; you can see it here and there, and more and more in recent games. But he’s 34, has a reasonable but still fairly massive contract, and can veto any trade. So trading him means trading him to a contender, with maybe some pieces coming back from a third team that gets involved to help facilitate. All contenders, of course, could use a guy like Dirk. But what would you be getting back for him, from any team other than the Lakers? Chris Bosh, maybe, at best? No thanks.

So the only real trade that makes sense is Dwight for Dirk. Howard is coming off back surgery, which has a history of permanently altering NBA players’ games, especially big men or players who rely on superior athleticism. Howard falls into both categories, and he’s clearly not the same player. He’s slower. He can’t jump as high or as quickly. And since he’s always worked hard in the weight room, but less so in the gym, he doesn’t have a ton of skill to fall back on. Maybe he will round into form by next season. But maybe he won’t. Plus, off the court, he’s been a first-class pain in the ass for two seasons running (at least), and I can’t imagine he would mesh well with Rick Carlisle. And all of that is assuming that Howard will actually re-sign here in the offseason. Which, even though Dallas could at that point offer more money than anyone else, is no guarantee.

Best-case scenario: Howard does re-sign with Dallas, but basically holds the entire franchise hostage with his fickle nature, over-entitled sense of self, and terrible comedy, and the team is something like the Orlando Magic teams from the past few years — good, but not truly great, and with not a ton of flexibility to change that situation. Worst case: you exile the franchise’s signature player for a couple of months of Howard and then lose him for nothing.

The Mavs, of course, would probably not be in this position if they had re-signed Tyson Chandler. Honestly, I sort of got the feeling from this interview that he wanted to leave regardless. But the Mavs only offered him a high-dollar one-year deal, because Mark Cuban is insistent on never being the sucker at the table. He always has to be the smartest guy in the room, or at least think he is. That’s good and bad. He takes risks, but his ego is also wrapped up in his business deals, and that generally never works out. Cuban thought he understood the implications of the new collective bargaining agreement better than anyone else, and that’s why he let Chandler, Butler, Barea, and everyone else from that championship team go. He explained this, and it made sense, or at least Mavs fans trusted him, because he had just brought a championship to town. He told them Deron Williams and maybe even Howard would be coming to town.

It immediately proved to be the wrong gamble — Chandler became even better in New York, Williams signed with Brooklyn because there wasn’t already someone like Chandler to help out Dirk (and maybe, just a little bit, because Cuban skipped their meeting to film Shark Tank), and now we’re here.

I know it’s fun to speculate, and maybe even salivate at the prospect of Howard coming to town. But there are no moves that will fix this season, and plenty of others that would make it worse.