The road less traveled & one last pitch

AP Photo/DayLifeJust about everyone has expressed their exasperation over the Dwight Howard situation by now. The sports world is tired of hearing this story and everyone — from players to fans to management — want it over. Blame ESPN and the 24-hour news cycle, if you would like, for part of the over-coverage of this story with its reporting of “imminent deals” and backroom conversations from sources. That is the world of journalism we live in.

The one constant though has come from Magic general manager Rob Hennigan. He has always said Orlando will make a trade that is best for the franchise above all else. There will be no deal simply for the sake of making a deal.

That appears now to include waiting until the February trade deadline … and perhaps beyond.

Chris Broussard of reported earlier this week that several executives believe the Magic have put the Dwight Howard trade talks on hold and may wait until February to make a deal. His sources were careful to leave themselves wiggle room, noting that the Magic may be telling others this to coax a better deal since they clearly are not satisfied with the deals on the table.

A few weeks ago, Hennigan said the Magic would keep their ears open but focus more on their push for a new head coach. Many people believe Jacque Vaughn is the favorite for that spot as interviews move to a final round.

Reuters Pictures/DayLifeMark Heisler of SheridanHoops reported the Magic may be content to wait until next summer and help facilitate sign and trades for Howard. His sources say Orlando was only tangentially involved in the Lakers trade scenarios and were taken aback by the Nets sudden (but understandable) deadline.

Oh, but the plot thickens more.

Alex Kennedy of HoopsWorld reported Hennigan and his staff are planning to make one final trip to Los Angeles to meet with Dwight Howard face to face. Sources tell Kennedy it will be a pitch made with the hopes of keeping Howard in Orlando and repairing some of the broken relationships within the franchise. While getting a longer-term commitment might be the ultimate goal, surely part of the goal is to ask Howard to play out his contract and be professional in one more zany season.

UPDATE: The meeting did not go well for the Magic as Howard re-affirmed his desire to leave Orlando, telling Hennigan he will not re-sign with orlando under any circumstances.

The reality is that as the trade discussions have dragged out and the Magic have failed to find a deal they like, trading Dwight Howard is becoming more difficult. Now that the majority of free agency has died down, teams are getting locked into their rosters and will be unable to make trades until December, if not January.

It makes it more and more likely that the Magic will have to keep Howard for at least the beginning part of the season.

Orlando has lost a lot of its leverage too. The summer, when there was still cap space and the hopes of having Howard for a full season, was when Orlando could maximize its leverage to get a deal done. The Magic could not and getting a deal done might be more about minimizing the damage rather than getting a favorable package in return.

Or perhaps the Magic may follow another path. One Orlando fans with the memories of Shaquille O’Neal have dreaded.

Orlando may let Dwight Howard walk for nothing.

Yes, the ultimate goal is to trade Howard for young players and draft picks while shedding some of the team’s awful contracts. This is what the Magic are hoping to do more than anything if they are able to trade Dwight Howard. Taking on older players and big contracts in return is not part of the plan. Thus, the Magic’s hesitation to bring in Brook Lopez on a four-year, max deal or possibly acquire Steve Blake or Metta World Peace from the Lakers.

If you cannot find takers to take on your bad contracts and give you back young players and draft picks, partially a byproduct of Howard limiting his desired address to Brooklyn, you likely get stuck taking other people’s garbage. Orlando does not want to take a bad deal that will keep the team in the middle or high lottery for years to come.

AP Photo/DayLifeWhat the Magic are seeking to do is very similar to what the Cavaliers did in the wake of LeBron James’ final year.

Cleveland did not ever entertain trade offers for James because the team believed James was staying. But once James made his “Decision” the Cavaliers worked quickly to get something for him — in contracts written in comic sans, of course. The Cavaliers actually acquired four draft picks — two first round picks — for James.

Orlando could still receive value in return for Howard if the team decides to hold onto him for the entire year. It would come in the form of draft picks most likely or a bit player — similar to the Ryan Anderson trade that netted Gustavo Ayon.

There is a major caveat though. The sign-and-trade rules have changed under the new CBA. Sign-and-trade deals under the old CBA allowed players to get the same money, raises and years as if they had re-signed with the team that owned the player’s Bird Rights. That is no longer the case. A sign and trade would only help the acquiring team clear cap space to take on the new player.

The Cavaliers rebuilding project though was both brilliant and a bit lucky in LeBron’s wake.

Cleveland had an abysmal year in 2010-11, going 19-63. That helped the Cavaliers get the No. 4 pick. It was a shrewd trade of Mo Williams to the Clippers for Baron Davis (whom they amnestied after the lockout) and a first round pick that netted them Kyrie Irving and an extremely bright future. Some more cap clearing got Cleveland in a position to go after some free agents next summer. There is a reason they are in the Andrew Bynum running so early.

The Cavaliers won only 21 games last season (26 wins in an 82-game season). But the team showed significant improvement and provided their fans with a lot of hope that the Playoffs are in the future. For losing a superstar like James, the Cavaliers have made a great comeback.

AP Photo/DayLifeNow, the next phase of Cleveland’s rebuilding might depend on the development of second-year player Tristan Thompson and rookie Dion Waiters. It is yet to be seen whether this mode of rebuilding can work. So far, Cleveland fans have to be excited about the franchise’s progress in James’ wake.

Orlando would hope to be so lucky.

Luck does play a part in it. The Cavaliers won the lottery and that helped them restore hope very quickly. But it takes skill too. The Magic (and the Cavaliers) have to draft smart and build slowly. Every free agent move when you are down at the bottom takes on added importance as you ahve to pick the right time to really “go for it” and make that decision the correct one.

In other words, you have to trust the “process.”

The obsession among Magic fans has been ensuring that the franchise gets something, anything, for Dwight Howard that this nuclear option has not been discussed. Hedo Turkoglu has a player option and only a partial guarantee for the 2014 season. And Chris Duhon is suddenly an expiring contract. It might take a year of pain, but the Magic have only about $21-22 million committed to the 2015 season. Add in some smart rookies, and Orlando might have some mobility in 2014 if the team is willing to take a hit in 2013.

There is light at the end of the tunnel. The most important part is not to screw things up with a bad trade.

And sometimes, that might mean the best decision is to endure through one more year of the Dwight-mare and let him walk for virtually nothing. At the very least, it is an option to consider.

Philip Rossman-Reich

About Philip Rossman-Reich

Philip Rossman-Reich is the managing editor for Crossover Chronicles and Orlando Magic Daily. You can follow him on twitter @OMagicDaily