By now, you have heard the rumors if you are a Hornets fan. You heard that the team got in contact with the Houston Rockets to see what it would take to get Dwight Howard, and, while the two sides have yet to reach a deal, there is still plenty of time between now and Thursday afternoon for general manager Rich Cho to work some of his magic.
Acquiring Howard would be a move that could potentially change the landscape of the Eastern Conference playoff picture. The timing looks ideal for the Hornets to make a move up the Eastern Conference standings — the Hawks could be preparing to blow up their team, the Heat are looking at the possibility of losing Chris Bosh and the Bulls are struggling and dealing with injuries to their newest star, Jimmy Butler. Charlotte entered the All Star break winners of seven of their last 10 games (second-best record in the East over that time frame), and the Hornets currently sit two games back of Miami for the fifth seed, three games back of Atlanta for the fourth seed and four games back of Boston for the third seed.
If Charlotte wants to not just accomplish owner and birthday boy Michael Jordan's goal of making the playoffs, but winning a series or two, this season looks like it could be the Hornets' best shot.
But is a player like Howard worth the risk?
1. Howard is the interior defender team needs.
If one was to call out one weakness on the Charlotte Hornets, it would most likely be their interior defense. The team has been unable to replace the presence Bismack Biyombo provided there last season, and the team's top shot blocker this season is a player who has been known for anything but shot blocking (Marvin Williams).
Howard is averaging 1.5 blocks — better than any Hornet — and 12 rebounds — nearly double of Charlotte's leader, Williams (6.6) — a game this season. For years, Charlotte was been known as one of the better defensive teams in the Association. But, without Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the team has struggled on defense this season compared to recent years (the Hornets currently rank 11th in the NBA in points allowed per game and defensive rating). It would be very hard to believe that Howard would not help those numbers.
2. Howard has worked with Steve Clifford and this type of offense before.
Hornets coach Steve Clifford has been an assistant coach on teams with Dwight Howard in Orlando and Los Angeles, and the Hornets current offense has made to mirror what the Orlando Magic used during Howard's best seasons, including the Magic's 2009 Finals run. Howard in a pick-and-roll offense with the likes of Walker, Nicolas Batum and Jeremy Lin passing him the ball is enough to make Hornets fans pass out from excitement. Plus, Howard is averaging 3.6 offensive rebounds a game this season, which is again double that of Cody Zeller, Charlotte's leader in that category (1.8).
3. The team is already pot committed. Time to go all-in.
Michael Jordan said preseason the team's goal was playoffs or bust, and let everyone in the front office know that if this goal wasn't met, changes in the organization would be made. The East seems ripe for the Hornets to make a run, as mentioned earlier. The Cleveland Cavaliers are far and away the class of the conference, but the East is mostly a muddled mess beyond that. Nearly every move made this offseason was made with the goal of immediately improvement to make the playoffs. There is no point in only committing halfway to it.
The time is right to strike, grab all the chips and go all-in on this season.
It is something both the franchise and the city of Charlotte need. Since the franchise's reboot, Charlotte has been to the playoffs twice, only to be swept by first Howard and the Magic, then LeBron James and the Miami Heat. Preseason, I said it would be a successful season if the Hornets could win just one playoff game. Now, there is a very real possibility that the team could win a playoff series for the first time in more than a decade (Charlotte's last playoff series win came in 2002 against Tracy McGrady and the Magic).
Meanwhile, the city of Charlotte has a bad taste left in its mouth after the Carolina Panthers' defeat in the Super Bowl. A playoff run would do wonders in winning the hearts and interests of Charlotte fans again. Howard would be the biggest national star to put on a Charlotte Hornets uniform since Larry Johnson or Muggsy Bogues (sorry Baron Davis, Eddie Jones and Glen Rice, but you were not a national star during your time in the Queen City).
1. Howard is on the wrong side of 30.
Howard turned 30 in early December and is in his 11th year in the Association. He has not played a full 82 game season since the 2009-2010 campaign. Father Time is undefeated, and is especially cruel to NFL running backs and NBA centers. Charlotte already has one injury-prone, 30+-year-old center. What is the point of trading him for a different one, especially as the league continues to trend away from centers and more towards athletic wing players?
Keep in mind that Howard is also coming off his worst season of his career (due to injuries and other reasons). He may not exactly be the star a team should be trading for if it is looking to make a deep run in the playoffs.
2. Howard is still limited offensively.
Despite the fact that Howard is a well-traveled NBA veteran, his offensive game can be considered limited at best. This season, 86 of his 387 field goal attempts have come from five feet or further from the basket (22.2 percent of his shots), and he is shooting just 37.2 percent on such shots. 17 of those 387 have come from eight feet or further out, and he has made just 29.4 percent of those shots.
According to NBA.com, Howard has taken 145 jump shots, hook shots and bank shots this season. He is shooting 35.8 percent on such shots, including an abysmal 4-for-38 (or 10.5 percent!!!) on jumpers. Considering that Charlotte would most likely be giving up one of their most talented offensive players (and only low post scoring threat) in Al Jefferson, one would hope to get someone slightly more polished offensively at that age. Additionally, while Howard has worked in this style of offense before, it remains to be seen how he exactly he would fit in in Charlotte with his new teammates.
3. Howard is more than likely a few month rental and nothing more.
Howard is a free agent after this season, and reports say that if he does leave Houston, he wants to go either Atlanta or Miami. Charlotte is far from the big market that Howard has always wanted to play in, and Howard has a tendency to not give his all on the court if he is not happy (more on that later). If Charlotte does acquire him, it would be quite the challenge to get Howard to resign here after the season.
Considering the Rockets reportedly want multiple first round picks for Howard, is it worth giving away that much of a team's future for (at best) one or two playoff series victories?
4. Howard's attitude.
Howard is known as a moody character, one who would let it show on the court if he is happy off of it. Some have gone as far to call Howard a "cancer," and the last time Charlotte signed a player with that kind of reputation, the only good thing that came out of it was this.
Chemistry has been a big part of the Hornets' success this season and can play a large role in a team's success overall (for those who want to argue that fact, I present last season as evidence towards my point). Trading for a player who doesn't want to be here and could potentially become poison in the locker room, dividing what is reportedly a very close-knit team, could be the nail in the coffin to the Hornets' playoff hopes and season.
As stated above, Charlotte has been pot committed to making the playoffs since Jordan's playoffs or bust mentality took over in the offseason. There seems to be no better time for Charlotte to take the risk (depending on the cost — no Walker, Batum, Kidd-Gilchrist or multiple first rounders allowed) and go all-in on this season. If they do not, their ceiling will continue to be fridge playoff contender with hopes of winning one or two playoff games. With Howard, the team should become a legitimate playoff lock with a very real chance of winning a playoff series or two depending on the matchups (AKA as long as they avoid James).
I have switched back and forth on the subject, even while writing this article. I was initially against the trade in very way, but the more I think about it (and again, depending on the price), the more I think it would be worth it.
The time is right. Work your magic again, Cho. Bring us Dwight Howard!