Charlotte Hornets center Dwight Howard reacts against the Brooklyn Nets on March 21, 2018, at the Barclays Center.

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Lichtenstein: Will Stars Finally Align For Nets Following Howard Trade?

Steve Lichtenstein
June 21, 2018 - 11:21 am
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Any trade that could get Timofey Mozgov and the $32.7 million he is still owed over the next two seasons off the Nets’ books without costing an arm and a leg should be celebrated.  It’s further proof of the NBA axiom that no contract is untradeable, no matter how horrific.

Brooklyn will be dealing the disgruntled Mozgov, a useless center who played a grand total of 66 minutes after November 10 for a 28-54 team, to Charlotte for eight-time All-Star center Dwight Howard, per Adrian Wojnarowski’s ESPN report on Wednesday.  The Nets will also send the Hornets two second-round draft picks (#45 overall in Thursday’s NBA Draft at Barclays Center and the Nets own 2021 pick) and cash.  The trade can’t become official until the new league year begins on July 6 since the Nets do not currently have the salary cap space to add Howard, who will be owed $23.8 million next season.

This has to be a win-win, right?  On and off the court.  Howard, even at 32, can still get you 15/10 per game.  And, ironically, considering the Nets’ rollercoaster history of multiple attempts to acquire Howard over the last seven years, the main motive for this trade seemed to be financial.

Unlike Mozgov’s, Howard’s contract will expire after the 2018-19 season. That means the Nets will be projected to have enough cap space to sign two free agents to max contracts during a summer when a bevy of top players are expected to hit the open market.

But I don’t think Nets fans should get too giddy about that. 

Remember, cap space hasn’t been much of an issue for Sean Marks in his short tenure as Brooklyn general manager.  He’s had gobs of it at certain points.

Obtaining transformational talent, however, has been all but impossible given the Nets’ status and bare draft pick cupboard.

>>MORE: Lichtenstein: Nets Typically Emphasize Character In Draft Targets

Will the summer of 2019 be any different, even with the Nets owning their first-round pick for the first time since 2013?    

Sorry, but even with Howard, I just don’t see the Nets getting all that closer to becoming a championship contender this season.  That’s kind of a big deal to star players these days.

Why would a Kyrie Irving or a Jimmy Butler, to name two such players mentioned in Nets fans’ fantasies on social media, then choose Brooklyn, home to an arena that draws significant crowds who root for the Nets’ opponents?

Howard’s alleged reputation as a locker room cancer could even be deemed a deterrent to prospective free agents.  It’s been at least six years since anyone wanted to hop aboard a banana boat with Howard.  Sirius XM host Brendan Haywood said Howard’s teammates in Charlotte “were just sick and tired of his act.”

This wasn’t an isolated incidence, which is partly why Howard will be suiting up for his fourth team in as many seasons in 2018-19.

It’s also one reason why I’m guessing he’ll be one-and-done in Brooklyn. 

Another reason is Jarrett Allen, the Nets’ 20-year old center heading into his sophomore season.  Allen, the 22nd overall selection in the 2017 Draft, showed potential when he was thrust into action for which he wasn’t entirely prepared last season. Unless I'm misreading the tea leaves at the Nets' facility, they still see Allen as their future.  A year as Howard’s backup shouldn’t be considered a stumble in Allen’s career path.  

Though Howard, meanwhile, has every incentive to go for a monster year, there’s always a question of fit when it comes to coach Kenny Atkinson’s big-man schemes.  See: Okafor, Jahlil.  Howard pines for low-post touches, something the Nets normally do not run in abundance.  Unlike Allen, Howard is not going to suddenly take up three-point shooting in his spare time.  He has barely improved his abysmal free throw rate over the course of his 14 NBA seasons.

Defensively, Howard is also old school.  He’s not used to switching on the perimeter, instead preferring to sag into the paint off pick-and-rolls.  If you watched the NBA playoffs, you may have noticed that all the good defenses switch 1-through-5, even if Atkinson is only just starting to put that in his playbook.   

Still, Howard should be able to get enough minutes to get his numbers, which will surely be far superior to anything Mozgov would have produced.  And then since he doesn’t seem the type to give home-team discounts on dollars and terms, he’ll probably be gone, leaving Brooklyn and Marks with another opportunity to fill their salary cap with worthwhile players.

That’s far from guaranteed.

For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Devils and Jets, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1