Happy Valentine’s Day, everybody. Danilo Gallinari has received your cards, and they have touched his Milanese heart like warm muzarell e pomodoro. He likes to pick off the basil chiffonades and eat them separately…so I’m told.
Anyway, since today is a day of love I thought I’d touch on a player who doesn’t seem to get a lot of love from Knicks fans as it pertains to our impending free-agent adventures. Dwight Howard has a player option for the 2012-13 season and could opt to become a free agent in 2012. Amid all the talk over Carmelo Anthony – and now we’re hearing Chris Paul and Deron Williams more and more – the idea of signing Howard hasn’t gained much traction in the rumor mill.
I believe Howard should be at or near the top of every fan’s wish list. Here are the major reasons why:
The Knicks are failing Center. Imagine you got a report card back with the chance to turn any one of your grades into an A+. You’d change the class you failed, right? Well, the Knicks are currently getting a B/B+ at both point guard and small forward…and a D at center. It seems like most Knick fans are comfortable giving up substantial assets to turn small forward from an area of strength into one of domination. Failing that, they seem most ready to make a run at Williams or Paul. But the Knicks have a near All-Star point guard, and they’re 0.4% from the bottom of the league in rebound rate; why are we not so eager to shore up the area in which we stand to improve the most?
Mike D’Antoni is three for three with point guards. Steve Nash became a two-time MVP. Raymond Felton nearly became an All-Star after five uninspiring years in Charlotte. Chris Duhon, we forget, generated All-Star buzz for a few months in late 2008 and parlayed his two years under D’Antoni into an inexplicable four-year deal from Orlando. D’Antoni has coached three different classes of point guard and made the best of every situation. Is that a reason not to pursue Williams and Paul? Not necessarily, but it may be reason enough to look towards improving the team down low, knowing the coach will make do at point.
Orlando’s window is closing. The Magic have over $56 million committed for the 2012-13 season without Howard on the books. They have no flexibility, and outside of Ryan Anderson and possibly Earl Clark, they don’t have players who project to improve substantially. Jason Richardson’s contract expires after this year, leaving a hole at shooting guard that, despite Richardson’s money coming off, they still won’t have the flexibility to look elsewhere to fulfill. If he hits free agency, Howard would be 26 and presumably in his athletic prime; is he going to want to pursue a title in 2012-13 with so much of the same talent he has now, only two years older? It’s possible, but those bad contracts make Orlando look like a sinking ship.
Dwight Howard is the perfect fit. Any rational Knicks fan knows Carmelo’s arrival is at least a bit of a shoehorn (ESPN Insider required for the first link); asking Anthony to play stretch four and setting Amar’e in stone at the five means the Knicks will be a better version of the undersized team they’ve been the last few years. (Note: I’m not saying they couldn’t make a playoff run that way, but there will be nights they get run over by bigger teams.) With Dwight Howard, the Knicks have incomparable inside muscle while maintaining the athleticism to beat their defenders down the floor and play the D’Antoni style. Amar’e can shoot as many mid-range jumpers as he pleases knowing there’s a thoroughbred tossing Brook Lopez’s aside to clean them up. Not to mention the fouls Amar’e won’t have to take because he has Superman bringing help defense.
I will not look a gift horse in the mouth. If we can get Carmelo in the next ten days, sacrificing future flexibility, it may well be too good of a deal to pass up. But if nothing gets done before the deadline, and Anthony hits free agency, we’re talking about just one more playoff run before 2012 rather than two. At that point, it may not be worth shoehorning Anthony onto this team just because he’s the best player available right now.
An Anthony in the hand is worth more than a Dwight Howard in the bush. Understood. And if the deal goes down, all bets for this June are off; true Knicks fans know this team is capable of winning (and losing, of course) on any given night, and Melo would give them a crunch-time edge that might just make some noise this spring. But if 2/24 passes with no deal done, it’s time for a change in focus – not from trading to free agency, but from getting the best available player to improving the team where it needs it most.
N.B.: I could probably link to nbaplaybook.com every day. Here is an account of his recent abuse of Kendrick Perkins and here is a post from the beginning of the year combating the myth that he has no post game. The secret is out