By Matt Moore
To trade or not to trade, that is the question.
Whether tis better to suffer the slings and arrows of rebuilding or... OK, I'm done with that intro. Ken Berger of CBSSports.com reports that talks between New Jersey and Orlando "gained momentum" Tuesday night and confirmed an ESPN.com report that the two teams have brought in Portland and another team to facilitate a deal. Portland would be sending Gerald Wallace to Orlando while getting draft picks and the cap space to sign Jamal Crawford. Granted, this makes no sense as constructed since Gerald Wallace is a near-All-Star and significantly better than Jamal Crawford, but we don't know the particulars of the deal yet or the additional team.
For Orlando, the decision is complex, but boils down to a few factors for a simple formula.
Circus surrounding Dwight this season and possible impact on chemistry + theoretical cap savings, first-round picks, and young players > or < the odds of convincing Howard to stay with a successful season. If it's greater than, take the deal, if not, wait. There's timing involved here. The Magic have to determine if the cost of dealing with this nonsense for another three months is worth a possible improvement in a deal if the deadline comes and New Jersey or the Lakers realize there's a chance they could miss out. As much as both suitors would try and force leverage by saying the Magic have to make a deal because they could lose Dwight for nothing, the Magic have the alternative.
Essentially, the Magic response is: "Without Dwight, we're going to be terrible, with or without picks and young players. So it's a bonus for us if we get something. For you, if you don't get Dwight, all your efforts are for nothing" and in the case of the Nets, that means the potential loss of Deron Williams. Howard's value at the deadline could be higher as teams get desperate. The Nets tipped their hand last season with their pursuit of Carmelo Anthony, offering up everything they could and having owner Mikhail Prokhorov meet with Anthony during All-Star Weekend. That same smell of desperation would be even more pungent at the deadline should the Nets be facing having sacrificed their future to get Deron Williams only to watch him walk away if they don't land Howard. There will be suitors for both men, including Williams' hometown team of Dallas.
But on the other side of that, the Magic do have to deal with this circus. Trips to New Jersey, New York, Los Angeles for either team, Dallas, Chicago will all be unbearable because of the storylines. Teammates will know their future is uncertain because of Howard's decision-making, and that will affect chemistry. That's not to say they can't overcome it, but there are consequences to constant speculation. Howard's decision has a thousand impacts on this league, and everyone is waiting to see what happens.
If Orlando wants to keep him, if they really truly believe it when he said he would consider staying, then they can try and swing a trade to improve the team and in doing so gamble even more of their future on keeping Howard. A strike-out and the Magic have set the franchise back a decade. But if you believe Howard leaving makes that the case regardless, it may make it easier to swallow.
The Magic have been reticent in these talks since the beginning. As opposed to New Orleans, who clearly are doing everything possible to get a deal done, provided the league will get out of the way and let them, the Magic aren't rushing to collapse this window of contention. From here on out it's matter of figuring out what the timing is and whether being a part of all this offseason insanity and having it carry over into the season is worth it.