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Bulls possess assets, situation to trade for Howard

It seems obvious to Sam Smith that the Bulls have by far the best combination of players to send to the Magic in a deal for Dwight Howard. Chicago would also provide the best destination for Howard to play if he seriously wants to challenge for a championship in a major market, which would be the only reason to leave where he is beloved, in Orlando.
Dwight Howard and Joakim Noah GM Otis Smith already has told the Orlando Sentinel that trading Dwight Howard is possible, though most league executives don’t expect the Magic to do anything until after the February All-Star game, which will be in Orlando this season.

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

Sam Smith at Bulls.com

So, I guess, the big question for the Bulls with training camps opening Friday is whether they want Dwight Howard.

I’ve seen all the speculative deals, and we know the Orlando Magic is in a difficult position and may have to trade Howard. GM Otis Smith already has told the Orlando Sentinel such a trade is possible, though most league executives don’t expect the Magic to do anything until after the February All-Star game, which will be in Orlando this season.

But it seems obvious to me the Bulls have, by far, the best combination of players to trade to make the Magic as whole, as they can be while providing the best destination for Howard to play if he seriously wants to challenge for a championship in a major market, which would be the only reason to leave where he is beloved, in Orlando.

Brook Lopez and picks? C’mon. I still don’t get the joke. Avery Johnson gets hit on the head with more rebounds than Lopez gets.

The Knicks? They can’t even figure out how to get Chris Paul with as few assets for trade as they have. And, by the way, they are not getting Paul in a trade unless it is for Stoudemire.

The Lakers? That’s what we all hear. Andrew Bynum? Sure, you’re going to build around a guy perpetually injured and so erratic he’s opening the season suspended for his pathetic flagrant fouls to end the Lakers playoffs. Pau Gasol? He proved when he was in his athletic prime at 26 you couldn’t win a playoff game if he was your best player. Now going on 32 next summer you’re going to start building with him? I don’t think so. And if you are Howard why do you want to join Kobe Bryant at 33 and his best years behind him. Plus, why go to Los Angeles to be the fifth best center in franchise history?

Howard could come to the Bulls and be the best center in franchise history and not have to be the best player on the team, which is why Howard can’t win in Orlando. How about playing with a 23-year-old point guard who’d give you five lobs a game and, by the way, is the reigning league MVP? You want to win in a major market with a franchise with championship tradition? Then where else would you go?

In all the speculation thus far all you read is what is best for the team getting Howard. You don’t hear much of what is best for the Magic. But the Nuggets did pretty well for themselves holding out as they did with Carmelo Anthony. It’s not exactly complete desperation for the Magic. Where is Howard going if he opts out next summer? The Pacers? Kings? Hornets? None of the top, big market teams really have cap money. The Nets do if Deron Williams leaves. But then what? The Knicks have enough to give you half of what you’d get—maybe $50 million instead of $100 million-if you stayed or were traded. So the Magic can call Howard’s bluff. But he can then go and they get nothing.

They’ve said they want to resign Jason Richardson, who’d likely want to return as his other top prospects likely are just for the midlevel exception, like the Bulls.

So here it is: Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and Taj Gibson for Howard and Brandon Bass.

Noah is popular from the U. of Florida and probably would have been an All-Star center last season. Deng is a near All-Star and top defensive player. Gibson is one of the league’s top shot blockers despite being a backup. That would give the Magic a young, defensive oriented team with Richardson and Jameer Nelson. The Bulls then sweeten the deal with their No. 1 this season and the No. 1 they hold from Charlotte, which based on Charlotte’s roster likely would be an unprotected No. 1 in 2016.

I’m not going there, but maybe the Bulls even take Hedo Turkoglu off their hands for expiring contracts, like C.J. Watson and Ronnie Brewer. You assume with being able to use amnesty for Gilbert Arenas, the Magic might then drive Howard to Chicago.

And the Bulls still would be able to use their mid-level exception to add another player, presumably a small forward, maybe like Caron Butler or Josh Howard or Tayshaun Prince — assuming they can dream a little — to replace Deng. Maybe a Vince Carter for cheap. With Rose and Howard, how many players would want to sign up for what would have to be a run of championships?

If you are the Bulls you can have a starting lineup something like Rose, Brewer or Keith Bogans at shooting guard, Josh Howard, Caron Butler, Shane Battier, Tayshaun Prince or maybe you can get the State Department to grant Wilson Chandler asylum at small forward, Carlos Boozer and Bass at power forward and Dwight Howard with Omer Asik, Kyle Korver, rookie Jimmy Butler and perhaps some added pieces like Kurt Thomas off the bench depending on the Turkoglu element, which I’d probably stay away from. The deal would seem fair without that extra piece.

But then, if you are the Bulls, have you changed your team too much? Why start over after where you’ve finally gone to?

Look, this was a 62-win Bulls team last season despite Noah missing almost half the season and Boozer a month and a bit more. One of the Bulls great strengths is depth and their front line size. Why mess with that, which no one else in the East has. Maybe you just tweak the thing with a shooting guard. Perhaps a trade for O.J. Mayo or Courtney Lee. Maybe a free agent like Richardson, Caron Butler or Jamal Crawford, or maybe a veteran like Carter or Shane Battier. That Miami conference finals series was a lot closer than that 4-1 with the Bulls losing a game in overtime in Miami and a fluke big blown lead at home in Game 5.

But then again...

People like to ask which player you would select if you were starting a team today. I’ve tested the hypothesis around the league and the consensus seems to be Rose, LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin. Kobe, Dirk and Wade are too old. Anthony, Deron Williams, Chris Paul and Stoudemire need help and are best as No. 2 guys. So what if you can have two of basically the top five players in the league in Rose and Howard, the best point guard and the best center and defender and both young? Is that the formula for a championship? Or the talent and depth you have with perhaps one addition?

Of course, this all depends on what Orlando wants to do. Of course, they prefer to keep Howard. They could hang onto Howard all season and let him go and do amnesty for Arenas and get under the salary cap. And they’ve always been a top destination for NBA free agents. But that’s a big risk that could find them uncompetitive for years with a gleaming new arena.

Dealing with the Bulls — and it would seem to me only the Bulls — would enable them to be a 50-win type contender right away even with losing Howard. Yes, these next few months could be very, very interesting.

Captain Kirk back in Chicago?

-- But here’s my solution: Trade for Kirk Hinrich. And it would seem a better chance now because Hinrich recently had surgery and is likely out for at least a month. That should expedite Atlanta’s desire to make a deal. Hinrich would love to return to the Bulls. I run into Hinrich occasionally at the public golf course jewel of the Northwest suburbs, Arboretum. I don’t play with Hinrich, but I’ll usually slice four or five balls a day into his fairway. This is the final season on his contract and he’s kept his home in the Northwest suburbs, where he’s settled.

Hinrich would be an ideal complement for Rose in the backcourt because he can make threes. But he also can handle the ball to allow Rose to play off the ball, something the Bulls want to do. Hinrich, we know, is a tough defender and always has given Dwyane Wade problems. He’d answer the Bulls primary needs, and you’d think the Hawks would be very motivated to trade him now.

The Atlanta franchise appears in financial trouble with another sale falling through this summer. The Bulls have an ace in the hole with unguaranteed contracts for Jannero Pargo, Keith Bogans and John Lucas. They equal about $4 million, which they could ship to the Hawks and the Hawks would cut them, saving $4 million. Hinrich makes $8 million. Then the Bulls trade them someone like C.J. Watson to finish the deal, which should be appealing since the Hawks get a replacement point guard while and Hinrich can’t play, perhaps until February. Maybe the Bulls throw in a pick. The Bulls could more afford to have Hinrich returning later in the season for a stretch run and playoffs since they are deep already. Hinrich remains much motivated to sign with the Bulls after this season. And that kind of acquisition gives the Bulls more flexibility with Hinrich going into the final season of his contract.

I continue to see much talk about various small forward free agents for the Bulls. But I think you need a guard because I am not convinced it will be good for Deng to play in the backcourt. Plus, he’s hardly the deep threat from on top of the floor and not the guy to have running back to protect when Rose drives, which is the responsibility of the other guard. The edge with someone like Hinrich is he can play both guard positions. I like that versatility, and it was a major factor for Isiah Thomas to eventually become a champion when the Pistons were able to get Joe Dumars, who could free Thomas to play more in the post and along the baseline, which is what the Bulls would like to do with Rose and which would give Rose more rest to enable him to be stronger throughout the playoffs.

Rose is the captain. I assume Kirk wouldn’t mind being demoted to lieutenant to get back to Chicago.

Should NBA-owned Hornets be allowed to move Paul?

-- I’ve been talking with league executives, insiders and owners and many are furious about all this Chris Paul talk regarding the Knicks. The point is that the league owns the Hornets, which means all the teams own the Hornets. Once you trade Paul you severely diminish the value of the franchise. Many are asking how the NBA can allow Paul to be traded and threaten the value of the team and then enhance another competitor. Said one: “There’s no way the league can allow this until the franchise is sold.”

Given how much the Knicks gave away to acquire Carmelo Anthony last season, there is believed to be little chance they can get involved in a Paul deal. Executives generally believe the Knicks are out of the running as estimates for a Paul free agency contract given the Knicks’ limited cap room are from an $11.5 million to $13 million starting salary, a deal that could cost Paul perhaps $50 million. No one believes he’d do that.

Obviously, there is a large market for Paul, which would include Orlando if they can come up with some multi-team magic (doubtful), the Lakers and Clippers. If I’m the Hornets and have to make a deal, the one I like best is the rumored one I’ve heard of Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka. It would seem the Thunder need a more traditional point guard to play with Durant. Westbrook could be a star as the lead player. And Paul did play in Oklahoma City during the hurricane. Would he want to sign long term there?

By the way, as for that Rajon Rondo/Paul stuff, Rondo is a very unique player who needs an awful lot of talent, especially shooting, around him to be successful. Rondo always struck me more as a luxury for a talented team, a last piece not a first piece. You don’t build around him. I don’t see his value anywhere near the top players in the league, like Paul. Plus, there always seems some attitude issue with him. I’d be wary of trading for him. I don’t believe the Hornets gave it a second thought if there was any such offer.

NBA news and notes

-- A further sign of what a great league it is: Reports have the Knicks “wish list” for a center including Kwame Brown, Tony Battie and Aaron Gray. If that’s who you are hoping for I’m guessing you are not that close to a title. An agent shouldn’t be a detriment to any signing, but Caron Butler is represented by Raymond Brothers, who was the agent for Ben Gordon in the contentious negotiations in which Brothers leveled all sorts of scurrilous allegations against the Bulls. Bobcats coach Paul Silas talked to the Charlotte Observer about Corey Maggette being the “focal point” of the offense with Stephen Jackson and Gerald Wallace gone. That ought to be an interesting offense with Maggette and Tyrus Thomas not exactly your most unselfish players. As often as they look up they might not even know who their teammates are.

-- Lots of guessing who’ll get the Shawn Kemp award starting Friday. It was Kemp who at the end of the 1998-99 lockout came into Cavs camp about 75 pounds overweight to effectively begin the end of his career... Might be tough for Jannero Pargo to make it back after surgeries. But brother Jeremy might be an interesting backup guard option for cheap after he played in Israel... Though Portland wants him back, Joel Przybilla figures to end up with the Bucks as he keeps a home in Wisconsin... The Grizzlies have tried to move O.J. Mayo for a power forward, Josh McRoberts or J.J. Hickson, twice since last trading deadline. You assume then they’d take Taj Gibson without hesitation.

--There was speculation last week Tyson Chandler was angling for $20 million annually, Nene almost $18 million and Marc Gasol almost $15 million. That would be one reason to sit out free agency this season as none really would make enough of a difference as free agents to justify that kind of salary. But that’s also why the players’ argument that owners don’t have to overpay players was specious. Yes, they do. Teams have to spend almost up to the $57 annual salary cap, and if those are elite free agents it tells you there aren’t nearly enough good players to go around and the new labor agreement isn’t going to change much the way business has been done. ... One free agent you don’t hear much talk about is Andrei Kirilenko, who is playing in Russia. Of course, the consensus is he’ll stay, but he’d be an intriguing addition... With all the free agency talk, much overlooked is a couple of interesting debuts this season: Minnesota point guard Ricky Rubio and the Kings’ Jimmer, and whether they can play in the NBA. ... With rookie Enes Kanter, Derrick Favors, Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Mehmet Okur, once the free agency excitement clears you assume there’ll be a lot of talk with the Jazz. ... The new Warriors owners are sounding like the next Mark Cuban with lots of public talk and rumors surrounding many big names and promises to spend. They’ll be interesting to watch.

-- Perhaps all you need to know about Brandon Roy now was the revealing comment of Portland executive Larry Miller to the Oregonian: "If Brandon were to accept mentally that 'I'm not that guy anymore, but I will do whatever I can to help the team,' it would make it easier to keep him around. We know every so often he is going to give us that game, and be the Brandon Roy of old, but mentally accepting where his game is, that's the bigger challenge for him. I don't know if he is there, or if he can get there." That’s really the danger of taking a shot at any former star, like Vince Carter, to take a role playing position. Teams are wondering how Michael Redd’s attitude will be as he’s now a backup player, at best. ... Watch out for the Clippers this season. The Los Angeles Times said they reached out immediately with their cap room to free agent forwards Caron Butler and Tayshaun Prince. With Griffin, Eric Gordon and DeAndre Jordan and a small forward they should make a nice move as they figure to try to make a deal for Chris Kaman. In the final year of his contract, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Knicks make a move for Kaman for Chauncey Billups, who would be a stabilizing veteran also in his final season for the Clippers at point guard.