As news leaked out on Thursday about Dwight Howard going to the LA Lakers, a sweet little nugget of information came across the wires.
While your initial reaction might be to peg the Dallas Mavericks as the big loser now that their chase for Howard is over, there was apparently some silver lining:
If L.A. does not work out for Dwight, says source briefed on his thinking, he knows "Dallas will be there for him." Mavs will have cap space.— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) August 10, 2012
I guess all that tireless work to maintain their cap flexibility paid off. Howard's agents are still able to use the Mavericks interest as a bargaining chip with his actual team, and isn't that what's really important?
Roster flexibility was supposed to be the key to Dallas building a super-team of their own. But as it turns out, all that flexibility accomplished was helping Howard's agents send him to where he wanted to be all along -- Los Angeles -- to play for a team whose bloated payroll sneers at the very idea of "dry powder".
Instead of re-signing Tyson Chandler, the Mavericks opted to jettison any title defense in order to maintain their salary cap room for the summer of 2012. Dallas has become a real-life example of the dangers of overlooking the bird in hand (Chandler) for two in the bush (Howard and Deron Williams).
Nine months later, they have neither, and the franchise's chances of returning to the NBA Finals look slimmer than ever. Howard won't sign a contract extension with the Lakers and he will enter free agency in 2013, but that's due to the CBA implications of when he opts to re-sign, not any real desire of taking his talents to North Texas.
Playing center for the LA Lakers is one of the most glamorous positions in sports. Hollywood's team has had a Hall of Famer manning the middle -- Mikan, Wilt, Kareem, Shaq -- since its inception. Howard will eat up all of the off-the-court attention, while any on-court friction with Kobe Bryant will be resolved by the presence of Steve Nash and Pau Gasol, two of the most unselfish stars in the NBA.
More importantly, Kobe is 34 and Howard is still only 26. The Lakers will be able to sell Howard on becoming "his" franchise down the road, and they'll use the summer as proof that they can always surround him with high-level talent, even if they aren't offering much of anything in return.
But what makes the deal so much worse for Dallas is where it send Bynum, the other big chip in the free agent market of 2013. The Philadelphia 76ers, a big-market team located only one hundred miles from Bynum's childhood home in New Jersey, are the perfect destination for the enigmatic center.
A team built around Bynum and Jrue Holiday, one of the most underrated PG's in the NBA, is instantly a contender in the Eastern Conference, where it gets pretty thin behind the Miami Heat. The Celtics are a year older, the chemistry between the Knicks two stars is completely off, the Nets don't have an interior defensive presence and the Bulls don't have Derrick Rose. By the end of the season, Philadelphia could have the second-best team out East.
Why would Bynum (who memorably quipped that "there was a bank in every city" when asked about his trade preferences) leave money on the table to go to an older team out West next summer? He's certainly not going to be eager to re-join a conference that has the Lakers and the Thunder in it.
And without Bynum or Howard, the whole house of cards that was the Mavericks plan comes crumbling down. Chris Paul isn't coming here without an elite center in place and there aren't any other franchise players looming on the horizon.
With the era of the super-team upon us, the last few years were a game of musical chairs to see where the league's top players would wind up. Thursday's trade was the sound of the music stopping; Dallas is standing in the middle of a now barren free agency market without a chair.