Cohen: Playing the Percentages

By Josh Cohen
September 26, 2012

ORLANDO -- Let’s play another game. It’s called Playing the Percentages. I provide three subjects and offer a percentage as to how likely/unlikely a certain scenario will happen. After reading my analysis to each, vote on your opinion.

Chances Dwight Howard signs long term with the Los Angeles Lakers next summer

70%: Let me first say this: If more big market teams were guaranteed to have sufficient salary cap space next summer, that 70 percent would significantly shrink.

Howard’s sudden yearning to join the Lakers after the Magic-Nets proposed deal crashed in early July was very revealing. For months, Dwight was extremely adamant about a trade to L.A. because of his unwavering dread to be viewed and criticized for modeling Shaquille O’Neal’s decision 14 years ago.

More than anything else, Howard craves to be adored and admired. He wants continuous cheers and support, not denigration. It was largely the reason he chose to sign some paperwork at the trade deadline last season to not opt out of his contract.

However, let’s suppose the Lakers fail to reach expectations, which at minimum is advancing to the NBA Finals. Then what?

Since the blockbuster trade in August, Howard has expressed his delight to join the Lakers and be part of L.A.’s storied history. But, sources close to Howard have said it’s no guarantee he will stay with the Lakers. In fact, one rumor swirled that he still aspires to be an integral part of the renaissance in Brooklyn.

The Nets have radically exceeded the salary cap over the last two months after re-signing Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries and acquiring Joe Johnson and his massive contract. Barring some kind of unimaginable player movement by July 1, 2013, Brooklyn won’t have cap space to offer Howard a contract.

Everyone has essentially ruled a Dwight-to-the-Nets concept impractical and irrational, but let’s just ponder for a moment.

What would happen if Howard threatened the Lakers at the trade deadline? What if he alleged that he was leaning toward exploring “other” options in free agency? Would L.A. at least consider a conversation with Brooklyn out of trepidation Dwight would walk a few months later?

Sure, this sounds preposterous right now. But seriously, what if the Lakers’ collective age was gleaming? What if Steve Nash and Pau Gasol were in and out of the lineup with injury concerns? What if Kobe Bryant couldn’t see eye to eye with Howard? Would suddenly Dwight reexamine the incentives of a long-term stay in Los Angeles and decide it may be more favorable to redirect his plans?

For now, however, the Lakers are profiting from Howard’s arrival. Something enormously painstaking would have to interfere with the Lakers to force them to dare consider such a drastic move.

Just about every big market organization, including the Nets, Knicks, Bulls, Clippers and Celtics, are way over the cap and have no room to make a push for a max-level player next summer. In case you deliberated it in your mind, the Heat also do not have the financial luxury to add another esteemed star.

There is one exception, however: Dallas.

Remember, the Mavericks were originally one of three teams Howard said he would approve a trade to when he first requested a deal out of Orlando last winter.

As a result of striking out on D-Will and since Jason Terry and Jason Kidd have moved on, Dallas will have plenty of cap space to try and lure Howard to Texas.

Could Mark Cuban and Dirk Nowitzki be enough of an influence to persuade Dwight to leave all the pageantry in Hollywood and instead slap on some cowboy boots and hat and take his talents to The Jingle City?

When it comes to Howard and his never-ending change of heart, it sure seems like a legit possibility.

Bear in mind, unless a sign-and-trade is orchestrated, Dwight would have to accept less money and less years if he did choose to leave the Lakers next summer.

Chances the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers play each other in the 2013 NBA Finals

55%: On one side, I would claim the Heat have an 80 percent chance of returning to the NBA Finals next season. The Eastern Conference is rather shaky and limited with stars.

It remains to be seen if Derrick Rose returns to his familiar form after his devastating injury in the playoffs last season. If he doesn’t, the Bulls can be scratched off the short list of teams that have an outside chance of shocking the Heat.

The Celtics are perhaps the only other valid threat to stun Miami, especially if Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce can avoid injury problems. Rajon Rondo is arguably the conference’s best player after LeBron James and Dwyane Wade considering Rose’s injury and the departure of Howard to the West.

The Lakers are the bigger puzzle – mostly because they have a justifiable menace staring them in the face. The Thunder still believe they are the better team out West because of their youth and durability.

Age can very well creep up and bite the Lakers. Steve Nash (38, 39 by the start of the playoffs), Kobe Bryant (34) and Pau Gasol (32) are in their final stages of their respective careers and it’s possible an arduous 82-game regular season and a grueling playoff quest could overwhelm L.A.

However, the Lakers have the most balanced starting lineup and as long as those lofty expectations don’t overwhelm them, they should meet up with the Heat for the title in June.

Chances either Andrew Nicholson or Maurice Harkless are in the Magic’s starting lineup by March 1

70%: Orlando is very optimistic both Nicholson and Harkless will prove to be very valuable players in the NBA. While rushing rookies into the heart of a battle can be fear provoking, there is a strapping curiosity about these two.

With veterans like Hedo Turkoglu, Al Harrington and Quentin Richardson in the final stages of their respective careers, the Magic want to learn about their rookies quickly.

Considering he played four years at St. Bonaventure, Nicholson is likely more ready than Harkless, who besides playing just one year at St. John’s is also coming off surgery to repair a sports hernia.

Much will also depend on how well the Magic are playing by March 1. If the vets are exceeding expectations and are guiding Orlando to a potential playoff berth, then one would assume Jacque Vaughn will stay the course and keep rolling with the older guys.

On the other hand, if the Magic’s rebuilding period suggests a draft lottery pick is on the horizon, it would seem only rational to plug in Nicholson and/or Harkless to help determine their overall potential.

Perhaps a more interesting question is whether we could see both Drew and Moe in the starting lineup by season’s end. While most expect Glen Davis to be the starting power forward to start the year, we know he is capable of being an undersized center after some success at that position following Howard’s season-ending injury.

If “Big Baby” were pushed over to center, it would make room for Nicholson to start at power forward and Harkless to be the primary small forward.

Remember, most scouts believe that if Harkless stayed in school one more year, he would have been guaranteed lottery selection next June.

If Drew and Moe play effectively this season – either off the bench or in a starting role – it will create a great deal of enthusiasm from True Blue Nation. It would be the kind of buoyancy that would uplift everyone as the Magic continue their rebuilding process.


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