The Charlotte Hornets already made one trade deadline move and now appear to be working on a much bigger one. They've engaged the Rockets on a trade for Dwight Howard, but have yet to find a package that would entice Houston, according to ESPN's Marc Stein. Stein quoted a source that said they were "pessimistic" about the chances of a deal, while Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reports that Charlotte is reluctant to part with significant assets in any deal.
Houston has slipped to ninth place in the Western Conference and now seems to be actively shopping Howard around the league. The Rockets have yet to find a taker, though, because of Howard's ongoing health issues and his likely status as a free agent this summer. Howard can opt out of the final year of his contract and is expected to do so to take advantage of the rising salary cap.
The Hornets, however, are motivated to make the playoffs and have a hole at center with Al Jefferson's injury. Charlotte has played well by spreading the floor and using a combination of Cody Zeller and Spencer Hawes to fill in, but the opportunity to acquire Howard is enticing.
Will this deal actually happen, though?
Why the Hornets will acquire Dwight Howard
Charlotte is desperately seeking relevancy and a return to the playoffs after last season's disappointment is very much a priority for ownership. The Hornets are currently in eighth place in the Eastern Conference and have won seven of their last 10 games. However, they're only half a game ahead of the Pistons, who just made a big move to acquire Tobias Harris.
Charlotte's win-now posture has been obvious since last summer. The Hornets traded 2014 lottery pick Noah Vonleh to the Blazers for small forward Nicolas Batum, even though Batum is in the final year of his contract. Batum has blossomed in Charlotte, so that trade has worked out so far. Charlotte also acquired shooting guard Courtney Lee from Memphis in the wake of a season-ending shoulder injury to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. A deal for Howard is consistent with the philosophy behind those moves.
On paper, Howard is a significant upgrade and would fit in better than most expect. Zeller has played decently filling in for the injured Jefferson, but he's a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none type of player. Hawes provides excellent shooting and playmaking off the bench, but is exposed defensively in a bigger role. Howard, even now, is much better than both players and is more versatile as a pick and roll threat than Jefferson.
If Howard is willing to buy in, he could be deadly in the Hornets' pace-and-space system while also providing a defensive upgrade. That might be a challenge, but it's worth noting that Hornets coach Steve Clifford has worked with Howard before. Clifford was an assistant coach under Stan Van Gundy during Howard's time in Orlando and also served on the Lakers' coaching staff during Howard's only year in L.A.
Why the Hornets won't acquire Dwight Howard
Because finding a trade combination that would suit the Rockets will be challenging. It's unclear what the Rockets might want in a deal and it's also unclear what the Hornets really have that would interest them, both from money and talent standpoints.
If the Rockets are seeking youth and draft picks, the Hornets could send some combination of Zeller, Jeremy Lamb, Frank Kaminsky and future first-round picks. Charlotte could also use Jefferson's $13.5 million expiring contract to help match salary. But that might not be enough value for the Rockets, who do certainly seek a playoff berth as well. Charlotte already turned down four first-round picks to draft Kaminsky last June and the Rockets already had their taste of Lamb before dealing him to Oklahoma City. Adding Kidd-Gilchrist to the trade package would be interesting, but it's hard to see Charlotte parting with him even with his injuries.
There also must be a small part of the Hornets' thinking that's worried about dealing future assets for an impending free agent. They already did it once to acquire Batum. It could be very dangerous to do so again, particularly if Howard's health continues to betray him.
There's motivation to get a deal done on both sides. The Hornets, given their impatient state and Clifford's prior history with Howard, are exactly the kind of team that'd think about making a move for Howard. However, they may not have enough assets to entice Houston into making a deal.
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