2012 NBA Free Agency: Nets Acquire Joe Johnson; Dwight Howard Next?


On Monday afternoon, the Atlanta Hawks and New Jersey Brooklyn Nets agreed on a major multi-player deal that will send All-Star Joe Johnson from Atlanta to Brooklyn.

The Nets will get Johnson and send Anthony Morrow, Jordan Farmer, Johan Petro, Jordan Williams, DeShawn Stevenson and a future first-round draft pick to the  Hawks.

This was a biggie. Johnson will be the highest-paid player in the NBA in the next three seasons, but his status as the guy that made the most money in the summer of 2010 didn’t stop the Nets from making their play at teaming him up with (hopefully) Deron Williams, Gerald Wallace and Brook Lopez.

All things considered, that’s a pretty decent core. You use your Mid-Level Exception to bring in a quality role player or two and you can absolutely challenge Chicago, Indiana and Boston for a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals and maybe even compete with Miami as Dwyane Wade ages.

Heck, you could even give them some trouble with your size up front with Lopez, Wallace and Kris Humphries, if they keep him. Not a bad place to start, right?

That was before this morning, when reports were leaked that the Magic may still make a trade with the Nets for Dwight Howard for whatever they had left on deck.

Obviously, Brook Lopez would be part of any Dwight trade package, so replace him with Howard and now the Nets are even better. The Nets would also throw in Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks and some late first-rounders, but is that any sort of hold-up when you’re getting one of the best players in basketball?

How did this happen? How did the Nets go from the lottery to still being the favorites to land the best center in basketball? Remember, it started back around the trade deadline in 2011 when they traded Derrick Favors, their lottery pick and Devin Harris to Utah for perennial All-Star Deron Williams, even though he decided not to sign an extension upon completion of the trade.

Williams and the Nets finished a disappointing 2010-2011 season, but he picked up his player option to remain a Net for 2011-2012. The Nets were still pretty bad, but instead of accepting that reality, they made another desperate, win-now move when they traded their 2012 first-round pick (bound to be in the lottery) to the Portland Trail Blazers for Gerald Wallace, who could become a free agent at the end of the season.

If that weren’t crazy enough, Wallace is also getting late into his career as well and may not be effective for the entirety of his newly-signed four year, $40 million extension. This may be a problem for some teams, but the Nets wanted to make their big splash in moving to Brooklyn and with their new owner, Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov.

So the Nets brought Wallace back on an extremely rich extension and then traded for what some deemed the worst contract in the NBA. So how are they the favorites for Howard? Quite simply, the Magic don’t have a ton of other options.

Howard killed whatever leverage the Magic may have had when he announced publicly that there was only one team that he would sign an extension with if he were traded there. If he were traded anywhere other than that one specific team, he would not even consider signing an extension until after he had explored his options in free agency. Orlando’s new General Manager Rob Hennigan confirmed that later.

The Nets have to have Orlando’s cooperation in any Howard trade since they’re pretty much capped out now and really will be if they’re able to retain Deron Williams and sign Brook Lopez to an extension, so signing Howard as a free agent is not even a pipe dream at this point, it won’t happen. Not unless Howard wants to sign for the Mid-Level Exception or the veteran’s minimum.

So why is Orlando seriously considering this? They’re in the same conference as the Nets and you would think that they would have a vested interest in seeing him at least go to the Western Conference just so that their path to any potential Finals appearance isn’t blocked by their one-time franchise savior.

I don’t think the Magic will trade for anything that will clog their cap space but by the same token it would seem that they have an interest in keeping a decent team together for their fans’ sake. It is a position that I don’t envy to say the least.

If you’re wondering why the Magic aren’t getting better offers (like this one, mayhaps?), you have to understand that no team is going to trade valuable assets for a one-year rental of a player. If they had some sort of assurance that he would stay more than one season, the Magic would get a higher-caliber offer.

But since he’ll only sign an extension in one place, the Magic won’t get any serious offers except from that one team. That team is the Nets, who have arguably the worst trade package for Howard in the entire league. At thi

s point, the best thing the Nets can offer is some salary relief for the Magic by taking their bad contracts back with Howard, but Prokhorov made it clear that the luxury tax is no object when he traded for Johnson.

This whole Dwight Howard saga can be boiled down to a couple of things: First, as much as we’ve piled on Howard in the past few months, he’s going to end up exactly where he wants and the Magic are powerless to do anything to stop him. Howard may have waffled at the 2012 trade deadline and locked himself into one more year with the Magic, but in the end that move will get him exactly where he wants to go, just a little later than he originally thought.

Second, this “new” NBA system of stars wanting to play with other stars sucks for the fans and franchises that have the player that wants to leave. In the NFL you have the franchise tag and that allows teams to keep their signature players around. I’m all for players going and playing where they want, but go and do it. Don’t put your fans that have loved and supported you through thick and thin in the situation where they have to keep up with these silly rumors everyday. If Howard wanted to leave, he should have never have decided to pick up his option and leave at the conclusion of the 2012 season. It wouldn’t have been very popular and some people would have been pretty upset, but what did he think was going to happen when he acts like this for months on end?

At the end of the day, Howard is going to be a Net and the Nets will win a lot of games. They may even win a championship, but all anyone will remember is the Dwight Saga and the Nets’ role in it. You can say what you want about the Heat and the way they assembled their team, but those guys didn’t strong-arm their teams around for two years ahead of time and never demanded a trade even once. Wade, James and Bosh just plugged away in their current situation and when it was time for them to become a free agent, they made the most of it.

Leave it to Dwight Howard to make LeBron James and Chris Bosh look savvy on how to leave a team.