After a ho-hum postseason full of blowouts and a sense of impending doom, the NBA offseason is moving at the helter-skelter pace that we have become accustomed to. Draft picks are flying from team to team, and players are being forced to find homes in new cities. Among those players on the move is Dwight Howard, who was sent to Charlotte along with the first pick of the second round in exchange for Miles Plumlee, Marco Belinelli, and the 41st overall pick.
This deal came out of nowhere, so people are still forming their opinions on it. At first glance, it seems like a pretty good deal for the Hornets, though it’s of course not without its faults. Let’s run through some of the positives and negatives of the trade.
Con: Dwight Howard and Dwight Howard’s Baggage
This seems like a pretty major negative – Howard’s the centerpiece of the deal, and he’s not exactly an attractive option as the starting center. After a great early career with the Orlando Magic, his play took a nosedive during his year in Los Angeles before an up-and-down run in Houston. Flying under the radar last year as a Hawk, Howard actually put together a pretty decent season: 13.5 points and 12.7 rebounds per game on .633 shooting. Those are definitely impressive numbers, but he’s still on the wrong side of 30, has a history of back injuries, can’t hit free throws, and is committed to taking three-pointers next year. That’s a lot of red flags. On the other hand...
Pro: Kemba Walker/Dwight Howard Pick-and-Rolls
I’ll let Swarm and Sting handle this one:
Con: Muddying the Rotation
Cody Zeller struggled with injuries this year, but he was a major difference maker on both ends of the floor when he was healthy. He deserves a chance to show what he can do as the starting center over an extended period, assuming he actually stays healthy. Now, it doesn’t look like he’ll be able to do that. It seems likely that he’ll either come off the bench to backup Howard and start when needed or slide to power forward to stay as a starter. As much as it may hurt to see Zeller move back to the bench, it’s still a preferable option to playing at the four – he simply doesn’t have the shooting range or the perimeter defense to survive as a power forward in today’s NBA, and the Hornets don’t have nearly enough shooting to spread the floor around a “twin towers” set up around the two big men. Of course, it’s always possible that Zeller remains as the starter, but Howard’s contract and infamous ego suggest that he won’t be coming off the bench.
Pro: Dumping Plumlee
Miles Plumlee’s contract is… undesirable, to say the least. He’s a valuable backup big man, but he’s owed $12.5 million in each of the next three seasons. That’s too much money and too many years to commit to a mediocre center, even in today’s money-happy NBA. Of course, Howard’s making even bigger money – $23.5 million this year and nearly $24 million next year – but he’ll be off the books a year earlier and the Hornets were going to be over the cap either way. Besides, he’s a better player than any of the Plumlees. Sure, he’s flawed. But, if you’ll forgive the pun, he’s still miles better than the former Duke star.
Pro: Moving Up in the Draft
All of the experts seem to believe that this year’s draft is very deep, with useful players likely to be available in the second round. Moving up from pick 41 to 31 just increases the chances of finding one of those valuable players. Considering the Plumlee/Howard swap a push means that Charlotte basically turned Marco Belinelli – who arrived in Charlotte last season in exchange for a late first-round pick – into a draft selection 10 picks higher. Of course, that’s not really how it works – the two big men can’t be removed from a trade they were a part of. But it sounds pretty nice, doesn’t it?
Pro: Forcing a Rookie to Play
It seems likely that the Hornets will be picking a shooting guard with their first round pick, and with Belinelli off the team, that rookie will be stepping in immediately as the backup shooting guard to Nicolas Batum. Rookies are often inconsistent players, but it’s unlikely that it’ll come back to bite Steve Clifford’s squad, which doesn’t really have high hopes as far as a deep postseason run goes. The extra experience of being a valuable player for a season rather than a little-used reserve will go a long way in the development of whichever young player ends up in the purple and teal.
All things considered, this trade seems like a net positive for the Hornets. There’s not much risk here, as none of the players leaving are too valuable. Worst case scenario, Charlotte has its cap tied up for one less year than it would’ve and has a higher second round pick. Best case, Howard’s presence returns the defense to their once-dominant status and his rim rolls create room for every other player on the floor, unlocking the offense.
The pros outweigh the cons, and this trade is a risk worth taking.