At some point in the coming weeks, it is expected that superstar big man Dwight Howard will inform the Orlando Magic that he will not return after the 2011-12 season.
That will begin a trade war the NBA has never seen.
With all due respect to Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard is on another level. If his name lands on the trade market, more than two teams will be doing creative math to figure out a way to get the big man into their uniform for next season.
And the Chicago Bulls are increasingly the best fit for Howard. Here's how.
I first cracked this school of thought in February, but the evolving landscape in the NBA certainly seems to point to the Bulls having the most favorable bargaining position. Consider what has changed since February, when I first wrote on the topic.
Derrick Rose is the league's MVP
Orlando was a disappointing first round exit
And the biggest trade chip in the theoretical market for Howard, LA's Andrew Bynum, did this:
If you're the Orlando Magic, who I might add are owned by one of the true class acts in professional sports in Rich DeVos, is this the lasting image you want associated with the exit of a personable superstar?
Would you trade Howard for an injury-prone kid that shot his mouth off to the media about there being a lack of trust in the Lakers' locker room, and then went WWE on a player half his size at the end of a blowout loss?
This isn't the first time Bynum has done something stupid, either; in January of 2009 he injured Gerald Wallace with a cheap foul, and he hammered Michael Beasley in March of this year as well.
When you look around the NBA, certainly there will be more teams than the Lakers that want Howard, but what can they offer? And with Howard having the power to request specific teams/markets in a trade, as Carmelo did, the market could be handicapped before it opens. If Howard wants to play in a big market, the biggest markets in the league are Los Angeles, New York and Chicago.
The New Jersey Nets probably have the best scenario for Howard outside of Chicago, with point guard Deron Williams and a big market. But the Nets don't have quality pieces to put into a deal, and aren't already a championship contender. How many draft picks would need to be added to a package centering on Brook Lopez for Orlando to feel appropriately compensated?
The New York Knicks aren't a likely destination for Howard because they just gave a player at the same position, Amare Stoudemire, a max contract and traded their souls for Carmelo Anthony. Not only have they already broken the bank, but they simply don't have the pieces left to deal and, frankly, have other needs they should address.
So it's between Los Angeles and... Chicago? (Forget the Clippers - they've got Blake Griffin and haven't made a play on a superstar in... ever.)
The longer the playoffs continue, and the more Taj Gibson plays, the better he looks to a potential trade partner like Orlando.
Consider that Bynum averaged 11.3 points, 9.4 rebounds and 1.96 blocks per game this year while being limited by injury (again) to just 54 games. meanwhile, Gibson averaged 7.1 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.30 blocks per game in 80 regular season games. Also consider that Gibson averaged six fewer minutes per game than Bynum, and you can't search for "taj gibson flagrant foul" on YouTube and have choices of the player being bodyslammed, which is the result of that search with Bynum's name in place of Gibson.
Am I saying any GM in the league would consider Taj Gibson and Andrew Bynum players of equal talent? No, that's ridiculous. But the reality now facing the Los Angeles Lakers is that Bynum has played in more than 65 games only once in his six-year NBA career, and that was the 2006-07 season. Now he's earning the labels of locker room big mouth and cheap shot artist.
The Bulls can, and should, feel comfortable trading multiple first round picks (as many as three) with Gibson and... wait for it.... Carlos Boozer. There isn't a team in the NBA that can send two quality big men and multiple first round picks to Orlando in a deal, but the Bulls could to precisely that.
Bynum's implosion, coupled with continued strong play from Gibson, could put the Bulls in position to make a league-altering blockbuster trade this summer.