Finally, after months of back and forth, the worst PR trainwreck in NBA history (this made LeBron‘s 2010 summer look like a day spent rebuilding after Katrina) is now over. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports confirmed this morning on Twitter the call with the league office is over, the trade was phoned in, and Dwight Howard is now officially a Los Angeles Laker. Howard is going to the Lakers, the team we’ve been saying would get him all along, and we have ourselves one of the most star-packed trades of the past few years to get through the most boring part of the NBA year (August).
Kobe Bryant is happy. We haven’t heard from Howard, but he has to be happy. Everyone in California has to be happy. Even Philly and Denver fans have to be saying, “Well, we might’ve just given the Lakers a championship, but at least we went from first-round fodder to a possible second-round exit…”
With so much talent in one deal, the ramifications will be felt all over the league this season. But for now, I’ll point out the five who are the biggest losers…
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5. SMALL MARKET TEAMS
Um, so what exactly was the point of this summer’s lockout? The payroll of the Lakers is now sitting just below $100 million, the Yankees of the NBA. Their luxury tax penalties are going to make Antonio Cromartie‘s child support bill look like tip money. What do you do if you’re fans of the Bobcats, Warriors, Jazz, Magic, Kings and any other less-than-stellar teams? Shit, what do you do if you’re the Nuggets, Blazers, Hawks or Mavs? Those are all very good teams, but now thanks to the offseason moves of the past three summers, the rich have gotten obscenely rich, like Rick Ross buying an entire fleet of yachts, and then being given his own personal island in the Pacific Ocean on top of that just because some diplomat loves “Hold Me Back.” We can predict pretty accurately that the NBA championship parade will be in one of three places next year: L.A., South Beach or Oklahoma City.
Basically, if you thought last season’s regular season didn’t matter, wait until this year.
As far as small market teams, the only defense anyone has for the system is to look at Oklahoma City and San Antonio. They’ve done it. They also got extremely lucky by being in the position to draft cornerstones like Tim Duncan and Kevin Durant. Drafting a double whammy like that – getting a true super-duper star that doesn’t care about defecting to a massive media market after his first deal – almost never happens. Take a team like the Bucks. They can’t bottom out or their arena will feel like a funeral home. They can’t get any marquee free agents to go there. They can’t rig the draft lottery because David Stern doesn’t care about a place like Milwaukee, Wisconsin. They’re stuck in purgatory as a 30-45 win team. When your big dilemma as an organization is whether you can convince Brandon Jennings to hang around, then you know you’re struggling.
But hey, at least they all get to fight over those extra luxury tax dollars, right?
4. ARRON AFFLALO
Afflalo used to be one of my favorite players, and out of last summer’s weak free agent class, I thought he was one of the most important players available. He can defend the opposing team’s best scorer, and can be an absolutely killer from deep. He works hard, and doesn’t cause problems either. Basically, he’s the perfect third or fourth banana on a great team.
Then Denver swooped in and re-signed the man for $43 million over five years. From there, it all fell apart. Afflalo started trying to take people off the dribble, saw his shooting percentages (from 50/42/85 to 47/40/80) drop across the board and his turnovers go up.
But mostly importantly, check out these numbers from ESPN Stats & Info: The Nuggets, a team with a seemingly unlimited stable of athletic talent, finished last season giving up the fifth-most points per play in the NBA. And of all the players in the league to defend at least 500 plays, Afflalo was DEAD LAST in defensive efficiency (To contrast that, Andre Iguodala was No. 11 in the NBA. Think the Nuggets aren’t feeling good about themselves this morning?).
Now, Afflalo is turning 27 years old in a little over two months, and he’s playing for a team stuck in quicksand. His defense won’t matter when they’re losing 60 games a year, so he’ll stop playing it. His fantastic spot-up shooting will happen less often because Orlando won’t have anyone to draw double-teams, and it’ll force the former UCLA standout to do more of what made him more inefficient last season. Afflalo was meant to be one of the best role players in the NBA. Now, he’ll spend the prime of his career as one of the worst go-to guys.
3. DERON WILLIAMS
The next time Williams and Howard meet up for a cup of tea, which will probably come in the 2013 NBA All-Star Game, Williams might string a belt in-between his knuckles, club Superman 2.0 in the face and leave him looking like Tyrion Lannister after the Battle of the Blackwater. I wouldn’t be surprised. Honestly, Howard SHOULD be a Net. Had he not bowed out at the last minute at the trade deadline, and done the smart thing by not opting in with Orlando, we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now.
Even though Williams told me at the World Basketball Festival a few weeks back that the Joe Johnson deal convinced him the Nets were serious about winning, he also had to believe Howard would find his way to Brooklyn, too. That was his preferred landing spot. The Nets had the money, and the hype behind the move to Brooklyn. Howard and Williams together could’ve done some serious damage. They probably don’t win a title, at least until the rest of the lineup caught up, but the Nets would’ve instantly become the favorites in New York City (sorry, ‘Melo).
I feel bad for D-Will. He never gets the same respect Chris Paul gets despite consistently out-playing him in head-to-head matchups over their careers. He doesn’t have the same hype as Derrick Rose or Russell Westbrook either, because those guys are so athletic and seem like they’re just tapping the surface of their potential. But Williams is a bad dude. It sucks hardly anyone outside of die-hards know this.
Honestly, I’m not sure anyone else lost out more in this deal than Williams, with the one exception being Raptors’ new big man Jonas Valanciunas. The rest of the centers in his division now look like this: Kevin Garnett, Tyson Chandler, Brook Lopez… and Andrew Bynum. If Andrew Bynum doesn’t consistently steal his per diem money with constant buckets when they matchup then Kevin Garnett might just snap him in half and use him for firewood. I hope for the young kid’s sake he looks better in November than he did for Lithuania during the Olympics this summer.
2. OKLAHOMA CITY/MIAMI
Just a few days ago, I wrote that LeBron James was the runaway winner of the NBA’s offseason, a man on top of the basketball world coming off a championship and returning to work knowing he had two more snipers (Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis) to ease the burden on him. Now he’s probably paying Argentina guard Facundo Campazzo to hit Kobe with another bad nut punch today.
Everything was set up for Miami to win championships over the next few years, and even though Oklahoma City is right there as well, they have questions about whether they can keep both James Harden and Serge Ibaka (their best player also plays the same position as LeBron, which is never a good thing). Now, they almost have to so they can keep pace.
No, I don’t think the Lakers are going to stomp on everyone Young Buck-style next year. The Heat and the Thunder are just as good, simply because they’re so young and so athletic on the wings. But was once a given – a OKC/Miami Finals rematch – is now very much in the air.
1. EVERYONE ASSOCIATED WITH THE MAGIC
Whether you believe this was the best deal the Magic could get or not is a little beside the point. Houston fans will argue they offered more at the draft, but it was too soon for Orlando to give up. Brooklyn fans will cry they had a deal in place with a lot more talent, but I’ve never liked Brook Lopez either, so I can’t blame Orlando for stalling. No, they didn’t get an All-Star in return for Howard, but Rob Hennigan and the rest of the team’s brass reiterated all along they didn’t need one. They wanted savings and draft picks. Okay, that’s cool. They didn’t get maximum savings in this deal (how is Hedo still in Orlando?), but their financial situation is still great moving forward: next summer, they’ll have max cap room.
The bigger problem is the draft picks they receive aren’t going to help. At all. All three of them are protected, the Philly pick can’t come until 2015 at the earliest, and the Laker pick isn’t coming until 2017 (meanwhile at this rate, L.A. might not have a draft pick until 2050). I doubt either one of those picks nets them a choice in the top 20. The best thing to come out of this deal for Orlando is the top pick they’ll get next summer because they’re about to be awful this season.
And finally, their fanbase must really suck it up now. After going through hellish storms in the Dwightmare, they’re left to come cheer for a team whose best player is Arron Afflalo. Good luck with that. Most teams can push the “rebuilding” idea, but realistically, Orlando is going to need a home run next offseason in a draft that’s looking VERY weak, and then pray to the basketball gods they can somehow land a marquee free agent next July. There are big names available – CP3, Bynum, Harden, Josh Smith – but who’d be willing to come to Disney World to play for this team?
Who is the biggest loser of this deal?
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