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February 17, 2012
Trade Scenarios
How Dwight Howard Changes the Odds

by Bradford Doolittle

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The Dwight Howard hypotheticals continue to fly around every form of media that exists and after three months of this, we're no closer to knowing just where the NBA's best center is going to land. We don't even know if he's going to be traded at all. Some, like Jerry West and Steve Kerr, suggest that Magic general manager Otis Smith should call Howard's bluff. Others insist that it would be moronic of Smith to let Howard walk this summer, that he has to move him now and recover whatever assets the trade market will bear.

It's a fascinating story because even though it seems like the league is currently suffering from an epidemic of stars forcing their way to new teams, in a historical context this is something that just doesn't happen very often. Not for upper-crust players at their peak. You can estimate that there are only around four to eight uber-elite players in the league at any given time, and that's probably being generous. When players of that caliber change teams, championships hang in the balance. That's the way it was for Moses Malone, Shaquille O'Neal and, perhaps, LeBron James. That's the way it may be for Dwight Howard.

Winning titles is what it's all about, right? That question seems too obvious to answer, but if you consider how NBA teams sometimes conduct their business, you can't help but wonder if that's really what they're trying to do. You can't levy that criticism against any team that acquires Howard, though. Any team that starts him a center is going to be in the championship conversation, at least a little bit.

To jump start that conversation, we've put some of these scenarios to the test. Our questions: How much would an acquisition of Howard improve each team's odds of winning a championship this season? Would some teams be helped more than others, once you factor in what they would be giving up?

We came up with eight scenarios that have been concocted by those who cover the league. Most of these ideas come from Chris Broussard's piece from yesterday; one of them is from a Broussard piece last month. We raided some ideas from Austin Link as well and, finally, came up with one scenario on our own, for reasons you are soon to learn.

We fed each of these scenarios in our SCHOENE projection system in order to calculate a baseline of expected wins, for each team in the league. Then we took these projected win totals and fed them into our Monte Carlo-style simulator, which generates results of each game from this year's schedule while factoring in things like home advantage and the effects of the compressed slate. The season is simulated all the way through until a champion is crowned. We ran each scenario through this simulation process 1,000 times in order to come up with a percentage chance that each reconfigured team can win a title with Howard, while also tracking the effects on the jilted Magic.

By comparing our reconfigured results with our original projections, we can estimate how much each scenario improves a team's championship odds--or, as with one case, if the deal improves their odds at all. So without further ado, here are eight Dwight Howard trade scenarios, listed in reverse order according to how much a deal improves the team's title odds.

8. The Magic trades Dwight Howard, Hedo Turkoglu and Ryan Anderson to Miami for Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade.

(Heat lose 10%; Magic gain 8.2%)

Keep in mind what these numbers mean: It's the change in a team's chances to win the title, not their new title odds. In this case, the Heat loses 10 percent, but still would have a 30.7 percent chance of winning a championship with its new pairing of LeBron James and Howard. However, from Orlando's standpoint, if Smith could swing this deal, he'd forever cement his place among the pantheon of NBA gurus. The Magic's chance of winning it all jumps from 4.4 percent with its current roster all the way up to 12.6 percent with the addition of Wade and Bosh.

Of course, it ain't going to happen. As we mentioned, there are only handful of true franchise players in the league at any given time and this deal swaps one for the other. In this scenario, the Magic not only get back Wade, but in Bosh they gain a performer that's on the level just below the elite. As nice as Ryan Anderson is, he's not of Bosh's caliber, and Turkoglu's career is running out of steam. Even Howard is not good enough for Miami to give up two of its big three. This was the only scenario in which a team's title chances actually took a hit.

7. The Magic trades Howard and Turkoglu to New Jersey for Brook Lopez, Marshon Brooks, Kris Humphries, Jordan Farmar, Mehmet Okur and a first-round pick.

(Nets gain 0.3%; Magic lose 3.8%)

The next three scenarios all have something in common: The percentage gains of acquiring Howard are very low because these teams don't have championship cores as currently constituted. For the Nets, the tandem of Deron Williams and Howard would make a great starting point for an eventual title contender. However, this deal would gut New Jersey's depth and the roster would be filled out with a lot of flotsam and jetsam.

As for the Magic, the percentage loss seems small until you consider that Orlando started this season with a 4.4 percentage chance of winning it all. You can't go down too far from that; this deal simply moves them closer to zero.

6. The Magic trade Howard, Turkoglu and Jason Richardson to Atlanta for Joe Johnson, Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia.

(Hawks gain 0.4%; Magic lose 1.6%)

This trade actually seems fairly plausible given the perceived value of the players involved. The Hawks would be building around a new core of Howard, Josh Smith and Jeff Teague which is kind of an awkward mix of strengths and weaknesses, but the talent is there. Howard would be the best building block the Hawks have had, but he wouldn't lift them into immediate contention. Still, this would be a great first step for the next version of the Hawks.

The Magic would get back a new leading scorer in Johnson, a guy who can create his own shot. In the big picture, it's the last thing Orlando would want to do--Johnson is on the wrong side of 30 and his onerous contract gets worse with each passing season. Horford would be a nice get but, as it is in Atlanta, he'd be forced to play out of position in the pivot. Orlando would remain competitive with this deal, but ultimately would find itself mired in the NBA's middle class.

5. The Magic trade Howard and Turkoglu to New York for Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler.

(Knicks gain 1.7%; Magic lose 1.9%)

While the Knicks would still have some work to do, this would trade would give their roster a higher ceiling. Howard is an upgrade over Tyson Chandler at both ends but as well as the latter is playing, this improvement is somewhat marginal, at least for this season. Clearly, you're losing a lot of value in going from Anthony to Turkoglu at the three. These numbers do include a larger projected role for Jeremy Lin going forward, though our projections don't quite yet capture the full value of what he's been giving to New York over the last nine magical days.

As with the Atlanta proposal, taking back Anthony and Chandler would keep the Magic competitive, but also would stick it in the middle, where you don't want to be. One reason this trade might happen is because of Anthony's perceived value. As the Knicks proved last season, he's viewed across the league as one of those upper-crust players we mentioned. The numbers don't quite agree. If the numbers are wrong, then this scenario would be a nice deal for Orlando.

4. The Magic trade Howard, Turkoglu and Jameer Nelson to the L.A. Lakers for Andrew Bynum. Houston sends Luis Scola, Kyle Lowry and Chase Budinger to the Magic. The Lakers send Pau Gasol to Houston.

(Lakers gain 3.2%, Magic gains 4.2%, Rockets gain 0.6%)

Our only three-team scenario improves the title odds for each team. Orlando gets a lot of talent back, but also has to deal with the diminishing returns of having Scola and Ryan Anderson sharing time at the four. Still, it would be a nice infusion of talent for the Magic. The Rockets have a lot of depth and not only would landing Gasol give them the offensive post presence they desire, but young upside players like Patrick Patterson and Chandler Parsons would get a chance to take on larger roles.

The Lakers' roster right now isn't that great and trading both Bynum and Gasol is a major talent hit. Nevertheless, the Howard-Kobe Bryant pairing would be daunting. L.A. would scare some teams in the current postseason, then Mitch Kupchak go about the task of remaking his roster to complement his new star duo. The presence of Turkoglu and Nelson--and their contracts--would actually impede that process.

3. Dallas signs Howard as a free agent.

(Mavericks gain 7.4%; Magic lose 4.4%)

You don't see Dallas-Orlando trade scenarios floated because, frankly, there aren't any that make sense. Still, the Mavericks, along with the Clippers and Nets, are one of the teams on Howard's much-discussed list, so you have to account for them. The Mavericks have cleared the salary decks for a run this summer at Howard, if he's available, and possibly Dallas native Deron Williams. This scenario assumes that Howard signs with Dallas this summer, while free-agents-to-be Jason Kidd and Jason Terry end up remaining with the Mavs on team-friendly contracts. Lamar Odom is assumed to have been bought out and his minutes replaced by a generic replacement-level player. (Though for the purposes of this simulation, we're imagining that all of this took place last summer.)

The new Howard, Dirk Nowitzki, Kidd/Terry core jumps to nearly a 10 percent chance to win a title, which is pretty good. Meanwhile, we see what happens to the Magic in the short term if Howard walks away and leaves Orlando empty-handed: Its title odds drop to zero.

2. The Magic trade Howard and Anderson to the L.A. Clippers for Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.

(Clippers gain 12.2%; Magic lose 2.4%)

The Clippers are views by SCHOENE as a moderate title contender (7.2 percent) as it is, but this trade would vault L.A. into the elite. Griffin, as good as he is, resides a tier well below that of Howard. Even better, Anderson has more on-court value than Jordan. That especially holds true when you consider that everything Jordan does, Howard does better. The new core would be Chris Paul, Howard and Anderson, players who complement each other in an almost ideal sense.

This would be a fair swap for the Magic as well. Orlando would remain competitive in the short term, but would also have that all-important first building block in Griffin. Also, Stan Van Gundy might be better suited than Vinny Del Negro to harness Jordan's ridiculous raw ability, turning him into a Howard-style defensive anchor.

1. The Magic trade Howard and Turkoglu to Chicago for Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Taj Gibson and the first-round pick the Bulls received from the Charlotte Bobcats.

(Bulls gain 13%; Magic lose 2.4%)

When you're talking in terms of marginal gains, no team stands to gain more from a Howard acquisition than Chicago, which would vault over Miami as the odds-on favorite to win it all. You'd be asking Howard to paper over the defensive shortcomings of his new frontcourt mates in Carlos Boozer and Turkoglu, but Bulls defensive wizard Tom Thibodeau could make it work. Even more so than Paul in L.A., Derrick Rose would make an ideal running mate for Howard because of his ability to get his own shot. Howard is not a high-volume offensive player and has always needed a high-scoring teammate to open things up in the lane.

The Magic get back plenty of future value in this deal and would be one of the league's better defensive teams right away. However, points would be hard to come by on the offensive end as Orlando would be woefully short of shot creators. That's okay--Smith presumably is thinking big picture with this one.

A version of this article originally appeared at ESPN Insider Insider.

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Bradford Doolittle is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Bradford by clicking here or click here to see Bradford's other articles.

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