What Dwight Howard Clippers Rumors Teach Us About Blake Griffin

ATLANTA, GA - FILE: Dwight Howard #12 of the Orlando Magic reacts after a turnover to the Atlanta Hawks during Game Six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena on April 28, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia. It was reported that the Orlando Magic have taken Dwight Howard off the market citing that none of the offers were worth pursuing December 14, 2011. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Dwight Howard trade rumors now include the Clippers, pitching a pipe dream of Blake Griffin and Superman playing side-by-side in Hollywood. It won't happen. But trading Blake Griffin for Dwight Howard? That's not a bad idea.

The Dwight Howard trade charade began last summer with all eyes on L.A., and six months later we're back to where we started. Only there's a twist. Now we're looking at the Clippers, not the Lakers.

Chris Sheridan reported on Monday that Howard added the Clippers to a wish list that already includes the New Jersey Nets, Dallas Mavericks and Lakers. The Orlando Sentinel has since poked holes in the report, and Sheridan himself stresses that any union with the Clippers would have to wait until this summer. But that doesn't mean there's nothing to discuss.

The Clippers are the most exciting team in the NBA, mostly because they've emerged out of thin air to contend for a title, one alley-oop at a time. According to the source that Sheridan spoke to, "[Howard’s] been watching them a lot. He’s intrigued by the Clippers." Aren't we all?

True, there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical of the Clippers pulling off this trade.

  1. The Magic have no reason to rush. Orlando may still decide to bite the bullet and give Dwight the sign-and-trade he's wanted all along, but not until a team gives them a reason to act. And unless Orlando panics, there's no way they choose a Clippers offer over packages from the Nets or Lakers. Because ...
  2. The Clippers don't have much to trade. DeAndre Jordan isn't a star if he's not playing next to someone like Blake Griffin, Mo Williams and Eric Bledsoe would be nothing more than throw-ins to any trade and any first-round picks that the Clippers throw in would be low in the first round. Andrew Bynum would almost certainly be more attractive for the Magic, as would Brook Lopez and New Jersey's lottery pick this year.
  3. If Orlando doesn't trade him ... and the Magic force Howard to free agency, then the Clippers would have to find someone else to take DeAndre Jordan just to free up the space for Howard. And that's while they compete against teams like Dallas, Brooklyn, and even Orlando, all of whom will be throwing the world at him.

Summary: The Magic don't have to trade Dwight Howard unless someone gives them an offer they can't refuse, and that someone won't be the Clippers unless something crazy happens. Which brings us to the next point.

  1. The Clippers should trade Blake Griffin. Hear me out.


L.A. could offer a package with Blake Griffin to the Magic tomorrow, give Otis Smith and Orlando till Monday to mull it over and Dwight Howard would be in Hollywood by next week. But the reasons this trade makes sense for everyone have more to do with Blake Griffin than Dwight Howard.

The key is selling high. Blake Griffin has become one of the biggest superstars in the NBA over the past 18 months, but at this point, his popularity outstrips his production. Watching him this season has been strange. He's still got all the potential that made us fall in love last year, except, now that we've been asked to take the Clippers seriously as a contender, you notice Blake's shortcomings more than his potential. You see him whining about calls, settling for bad jumpers, getting abused on defense.

He doesn't have a dominant post move, his jumper off pick-and-rolls is still developing, and if you can limit his opportunities in transition, he's not nearly as dangerous as his reputation. For the Clippers this means that when opposing defense buckles down in crunch time and transition lobs give way to halfcourt offense, it's on Chris Paul to create the offense, or hope that Chauncey Billups and Caron Butler (or sometimes Griffin) can bail them out with low-percentage jumpers. At that point, they don't look like a team with two dominant superstars.

Blake's defense is also a work-in-progress (at best), and as Hoop Speak explained on Tuesday, there's reason to believe he'll never really be better than average on that end. In other words, at least for this year, the idea of Blake Griffin is better than the real thing.

None of which says Griffin will never be the player everyone thinks he is now. There's a good chance he gets there somewhere in the next few years. But the Clippers are contending now, and depending on what you think of Chris Paul's knees, the window won't last more than four or five years. If you're looking to contend for an NBA title over that span, wouldn't you rather have a superstar in his prime (Dwight Howard) than a superstar who's still learning how to play halfcourt basketball (Griffin)?

Howard paired with Jordan would be the most dominating defensive pairing the NBA has seen since Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins, only with 10 times the lobs on the other end. The problems in halfcourt offense would still be there, but where L.A. would get 80 or 90 percent of what Griffin gives them on offense, Howard gives them 300 percent of what they get from Blake on defense.

As for Orlando's end of the deal ... it hurts to give up Howard, but getting back the most popular young player in the league is about 5,000 percent better than their previous best-case scenario.

As a superstar expected to contend for a title in 2012, Blake Griffin is probably a little overrated. As a young player with limitless potential that could be the most dominating power forward in the NBA one day? Every bit as good as advertised. All the potential's still there, and the Magic could build around him and overnight they become one of the most exciting teams in the league. Just like the Clippers the past year-and-a-half.

As it stands now, the Clippers are hard to take seriously as a title contender because their defense isn't good enough and Chris Paul bears too much responsibility for making the offense work in crunch time. Meanwhile, the Magic look better than expected this year, but as long as Dwight's free agency hangs in the air, they're sleepwalking toward potential oblivion.

With a trade ... One team goes from flawed title contender to one of the scariest teams in the entire league over the next five years, and the other goes from a team that's slowly approaching Armageddon to a team with more hope than all but a handful of teams in the NBA. So, why not turn another stupid Dwight Howard rumor into the most spectacular NBA blockbuster in 20 years?


This will never happen, obviously. The Clippers would risk alienating millions of brand new fans, and if it didn't work out, it's the sort of move that could inspire the first-ever fan-owner homicide. Plus, we still don't know whether Howard's even interested in being a Clipper over the long term. At best this is all premature, and it's probably a waste of time.

But if nothing else, the hypothetical speaks volumes about Blake Griffin. He's one of the most awesomely intoxicating young players in the NBA, and if he develops a jumper and post moves, he could evolve into the most unstoppable offensive forward we've ever seen. There's potential, excitement, and potential for lots of excitement. But right now he's nowhere near as perfect or dominant as he seems, and if you look close and juxtapose him what a truly elite peer brings to the table every night, you begin to see how far away he really is. In other words, 2012 Blake Griffin epitomizes everything that's great about the Clippers, and all the reasons they'll probably disappoint us.

You know, unless they trade for Dwight Howard.

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