As we all sit here hitting F5 on probasketballtalk waiting for the latest Chris Paul and Dwight Howard rumblings, I want to recount the latest on the two superstars and offer my "educated" opinion on what just might happen.
First, Dwight Howard is, hands down, a top 5 player, due to his position, and the best defensive center, if not player, since a young Shaq or Dikembe Mutombo roamed the paint. The Orlando Magic GM Otis Smith is not afraid to make a big move. He has proved this before just within the past two years. before the '09 season, they added Vince Carter, Ryan Anderson, Matt Barnes, and others while losing Hedo Turkoglu and Courtney Lee in the Carter trade. Next year, he pulled the trigger on a mid-season deal, landing Turkoglu, again, Earl Clark, Jason Richardson, and Gilbert Arenas (in a separate swap for Rashard Lewis' turrable contract) while giving up Vince Carter (gone so soon?!), Marcin Gortat, and Mickaël Piétrus. His history goes even further back. The important thing is that he will not hesitate once he knows what the market is, and what Howard's intentions are.
The tricky part is that Dwight has still not made his intentions public, or even may not know what he wants to do. He is conflicted, he loves playing in Orlando and for the Magic franchise. Unfortunately, while Otis has been a quick-trigger GM, it is not always for the better. They have only had one Finals appearance under Howard's leadership. Certainly, over this many years of possessing one of the best centers in the NBA, they would have added a second true building block to be Dwight's Robin. A past-their-prime Carter, Richardson, or Arenas do not exactly suffice. So he has a tough decision to make, one that will ultimately lead him to being traded to the Celtics, Lakers, or, my darkhorse, the Warriors.
The Clippers, Knicks, and Heat are out. So are most other teams. The Nets are unlikely since they can only offer Brook Lopez and some 1st rounders somewhere since they gave up a bunch for Deron. They are a good bet to be players if Howard gets to free agency but I can't see them being able to swing a trade in the end. The Celtics can offer Rondo, who has fallen out of favor, Jeff Green (ew), Avery Bradley, and one of their rotting corpses. Probably not going to happen for them. The Lakers can offer Andrew Bynum, the best replacement available for Howard, Lamar Odom or Pau Gasol, and some picks or a few other players. They are a great trade partner for the Magic but it remains to be seen if Howard wants to spend the rest of his career in Shaq's shadow like he has done his early years. Something tells me he wouldn't want to play in LA. Wouldn't be shocked if he ends up there but I just don't think he wants to. Finally, the Warriors are a darkhorse. They are in the lead for the CP3 sweepstakes (more on that later), but without an extension, they may be hesitant. If they turn their attention to Howard, they would have a defensive stalwart behind their undersized backcourt. It would allow Curry or Ellis to go for steals knowing that a mammoth was behind them ready to swat away guards' shots in the lane. At the end of the day, still a longshot but something I would love to see. They could offer Udoh/Lee/Biedrins, Curry/Ellis, Klay Thompson, and a 1st. A great deal for the Magic.
Right now, the three teams in the lead for his services are the Celtics, Clippers, and Warriors. The Celtics offer would resemble the Howard offer shown above with Rondo and Green being the centerpieces. I don't think that will get it done for New Orleans. The Clippers offer stands at Eric Bledsoe, DeAndre Jordan, Al-Farouq Aminu, and the T-Wolves unprotected 1st round pick. If they would put Eric Gordon instead of Aminu and Bledsoe, this deal gets done. The only concern is that Donald Sterling's demeanor may prevent Paul from wanting to stay with the Clippers, Blake Griffin and winning, or not. Also, Blake might be upset at losing his best friend Jordan and might not re-sign with the Clippers after 2 more years if that were the case. Finally, the Warriors are offering Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, two sweet stroking guards who could transform the Hornets back to a winner. This may be the best fit for Paul; an upbeat system where he has a plethora of options to dish to along with a guard-friendly first-time coach in Mark Jackson. If the Warriors sign Tyson Chandler in FA as well, there is a chance Paul would re-sign there after opting out of his contract in the offseason.
See, the crux in both these situations is that in order to obtain the most money on their next contract, the new CBA forces CP3 and DH12 to opt out of the final year of their deal. The contract extension when they're traded is less than if they opt out and re-sign with the same team. CP3 could get a $100 million/5 years deal if he stays with who he's traded to or refuse an extension and leave to sign with the Knicks for $74 million/5 years. A large difference, but nothing that couldn't be made up on the next contract or through marketing his brand in New York City. For this reason, I feel that the Knicks will end up with Chris Paul no matter where he is traded this year. He HAS TO opt out at the end of the year. There will be a chance for the Knicks to give their pitch, and unless he wins a title this year, he will end up a New York Knick to form the next big three.