Even with a 2-0 start and a game Friday against one of those two victims, the New Jersey Nets, the hot topic is still what possible chance the Atlanta Hawks have at obtaining the biggest (literally) trade chip out there, Orlando's Dwight Howard.
There was massive response, including our own, around Marc Stein's golden nugget of information regarding the Hawks interest and proposal for Dwight, a notion confirmed by the Real MC over at the AJC a couple of days ago.
Since then, there has been nothing that has squashed the notion of the Hawks chasing Howard, though MC makes an interesting addendum to the principals involved:
The Hawks did put together a deal for Howard back when the Magic had him on the market. My understanding is they did so without a commitment from Howard that he would either exercise his contract opt-in for next season or sign a long-term deal. The proposed deal eventually fell apart on Orlando's end.
I'm not certain which players the Hawks offered but it's unlikely Josh Smith was one of them. The Hawks would try to entice Howard to sign with the team long-term for the chance to play at home with his good friend.
This would make Al Horford the principal involved in any Dwight deal due to both his proficiency on the court and his long term deal. Horford is projected to easily outdistance the value in his deal, which has him locked up for four more years after this season through his Age 29 season.
Trading for Howard without any commitment beyond this season is known around Bird Watchers as a "Manning" deal, named for the multi-talented former Kansas Jayhawk, Danny Manning, who came from the Los Angeles Clippers for the greatest player to ever wear an Atlanta Hawk uniform. Manning was not immediately popular due to the team dealing its signature player and did not further endear himself to Atlanta fans by spurning a long term deal with the Hawks, instead signing a shady 1 year, 1 million dollar deal with the Phoenix Suns. The year after, Manning got paid for his "sacrifice", receiving a 6 year, 40 million dollar deal from the Suns.
That said, most Hawks fans may certainly be tempted to roll the dice on a "Manning" with Howard given, as MC mentions, the potential for a Howard/Josh Smith combination in their home city of Atlanta.
Lest you think the Magic would want more than that, consider this piece from the Orlando Sentinel that touts the possibility of the Magic, instead of getting nothing for Howard, entertaining a possible lesser package for a "rental" of the all-star center.
Yes, Horford would be the principal even in a "rental" deal for Howard, and the Hawks would have to include another salary if Howard were the only Magic player to come over. An expiring contract like that of Kirk Hinrich (8.1M) would work in that scenario. You can also assume that a future draft pick would be necessary even in a deal such as that.
Even the Hawk players have gotten into the act, with Tracy McGrady supplying some resume padding material for a life after basketball in this breakdown with Yahoo! feature writer Adrian Wojnarowski while in Newark opening night.
It's so hard for players to visualize a different day for the Nets, a Brooklyn arena that still is under construction. And so much easier to make a case for the defending NBA champion Dallas Mavericks and an owner, Mark Cuban, who is fully engaged in the championship chase. After watching the Nets offer no resistance to the Hawks in a 106-70 dismantling Tuesday night, T-Mac's vision of Howard's future had been further validated in his own mind.
"D-Will is from Dallas," McGrady said. "You've got Dirk Nowitzki there. They're going to have [cap space] there. That looks sweet. Dirk. D-Will. And then you get Dwight Howard. That's it, right there."
It's also possible that Howard do what Chris Paul did for the Clippers, which is accept the opt-in that will extend their contract out an additional year, and go through the free agent process then. With Josh Smith's contract potentially co-terminating after next season as well, there could lie a potential package deal scenario which could see both Howard and Smith leave Atlanta. They could both see what happens here and, if they don't like the situation, they can both become free agents and leave.
Such a situation would be a nightmare for a franchise rolling the dice by dealing solid all-star Horford for the possible championship maker Howard and a fan base that's never recovered from the Human Highlight Deal in 1994.
UPDATED: From Marc Stein's Weekend Dime comes this morsel from ESPN's interview with Al Horford regarding the trade rumors:
"Wow," Horford said. "I guess I'm heading back to Florida. ... I don't know, that's interesting, I know that Dwight is from here, but as far as I know, this is the first I've heard of it. But it'll be interesting."
The surprise in Horford's voice was genuine, leaving the distinct impression that the gentlemanly center kindly played along with the line of questioning but really wasn't aware of such chatter. Yet it certainly makes sense -- assuming Orlando reaches the point before the March 15 trade deadline to shop its free agent-to-be for the best possible deal it can find -- that Horford would be a name at or near the top of the Magic's wish list.
Exit Questions: The rumors will continue to fly until Howard is dealt and now that Atlanta has somewhat entered the picture, these questions will persist: Do you want Howard, how much are you willing to give, and can you accept a deal in a "Manning" situation?