"Sources told ESPN.com that the aforementioned Hawks, meanwhile, engaged Orlando in trade talks for Howard earlier this month with an offer believed to be headlined by $124 million guard Joe Johnson and swingman Josh Smith. You have to figure that the Magic, though, would insist on Al Horford if such discussions ever got serious.
The Hawks are not on Howard's short list of preferred trade destinations alongside the Nets, Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks, even though Atlanta is his hometown. That's presumably because Howard wants no part of Atlanta's perpetually unsettled ownership situation. The Hawks nonetheless took the risk of pursuing Howard anyway without any assurances about how long he’d be willing to stay and, according to sources, felt like they were making some semblance of progress before the Magic shut down talks."The way the season-long drama with Howard has played out could ultimately make the Hawks a more attractive destination than was originally believed. Howard's agent was given permission to speak to the Lakers, Nets and Mavericks regarding trade scenarios. Nets center Brook Lopez was injured subsequently, dampening any enthusiasm on the part of the Magic to make an immediate deal. Horford was then injured, which appeared to take the Hawks out of the running as well.
However, after the trade deadline passed and Howard opted in for the final year of his contract, a report surfaced that the Magic had used a threat of trading Howard to the Lakers as leverage.
"Sources for months maintained Howard wanted no part of the Lakers, that he did not want to follow the legacy of Shaquille O’Neal. Orlando leaders had one other reason for the threat: They favored the Lakers’ package of Andrew Bynum, Devin Ebanks and Steve Blake over the Nets’ offer."The New York Post further claimed that Howard, despite an initial short list that included the Lakers, was adamant that he wanted to land with the Nets. By opting in for the final year of his contract, Howard may have ensured that he ends up with neither team. The Lakers are unlikely to part with Andrew Bynum if Howard has decided he doesn't want to play for them. And by opting in for the final year of his contract, Howard has provided the Magic with additional leverage to seek a better offer than what the Nets or Mavericks could assemble.
I previously questioned what benefit in terms of wins and loses was produced by Stan Van Gundy's decision to throw Howard under the bus and brand him a coach killer. If Smith's report proves to be correct, Van Gundy will have done irreparable harm to the Magic franchise. Was Howard really so averse to spending a few weeks as a Laker before becoming an unrestricted free agent that he opted in? The idea that Howard sincerely wanted to do right by Magic fans is plausible. But now he faces what must be kryptonite to a would-be superhero: the prospect of spending the rest of his career as a villain.
Thus why the Hawks suddenly become a more attractive destination. Howard desperately wants to be loved, and Atlanta presents a unique opportunity to push a team into contention while providing a prime NBA market with the superstar it has been dying for. A package of Joe Johnson and Horford for Howard and Hedo Turkoglu's poisonous contract is really the best solution for all parties. Magic owner Rich DeVos is elderly, not interested in a lengthy rebuild and willing and able to take on payroll. A 6-time All-Star guard plus the reigning 3rd-team All NBA center (who won an NCAA title at Florida) is probably the best package Orlando will be offered. And for those who point to Johnson's inevitable decline as his salary increases, keep in mind that the Magic took on Gilbert Arenas' contract when the latter was years removed from playing at an All Star level.
Meanwhile Howard gets the opportunity to single-handedly raise Hawks attendance out of the cellar while earning the adulation of the city where he was born and raised. For the Hawks there is a great deal of risk unless Howard signs long term, but the upside is too great to ignore. For one thing, landing Howard may be the best chance the Hawks have of retaining Josh Smith beyond next season. Present signs indicate Smith may be counting the days until he can leave the Hawks. But one season in Atlanta with Howard as a teammate could be so magical that it convinces both to sign long term.
Assuming the above trade scenario, if Howard played the last year of his contract without signing an extension, he and Josh would be unrestricted free agents after next season. The Hawks would be free of salary commitments other than a qualifying offer to Jeff Teague and player options for Marvin Williams and Turkoglu (further assuming the Hawks had not signed Ivan Johnson to a long-term deal). If both Turk and Marvin opted in for their final year, the Hawks could Amnesty Williams and try to find a taker for Turk's expiring contract, making the team salary-free. Indeed, the threat of using the Amesty Clause on Williams might be enough to convince him to opt out and become an unrestricted free agent rather than end up on a high-bidding lottery team. This would put the team in position to emulate the Miami Heat by bringing in a third star such as Chris Paul and rounding out the roster with a mix of minimum-salary veterans and low cost/high value players such as Zaza Pachulia and Ivan Johnson.
Sound like wishful thinking? Perhaps. But I challenge Hoopinion's readers to come up with a trade scenario more beneficial to the Magic, with the presumption that the Lakers and Andrew Bynum are off the table.