Though the Bulls biggest needs have nothing to do with bigs, it's that depth down low that is also potential trade bait to acquire the most irreplaceable, game-changing center in the NBA, Dwight Howard. But Howard wants to stay in Orlando, he says.
So, for now, we dream:
Howard will be a free agent after the 2012-13 season, but his contract includes and Early Termination Option that could make him a free agent after the 2011-12 season, like that which could've been exercised by Carmelo Anthony in 2011 before being traded tot he Knicks and signing an extension to stay in New York. Trade talk involving Howard has buzzed since the Cavs lost LeBron James in the 2010 offseason for nothing.
Of course, the Magic want to re-sign arguably one of the top two or three most valuable assets in the game, but the speculation has surrounded Howard's will after a 2010-11 season where he refused to discuss his future with the team.
Now, it's the offseason and the owners' collective bargaining agreement with the players expires on June 30. With a lockout seeming inevitable and the duration of it ranging from disruptive to season-shortening, Howard is talking.
"As of right now, I'm a part of the Orlando Magic and I plan to be here," Howard said (Josh Robbins, Orlando Sentinel). "And I want the Magic to do whatever they can to make sure that we can get our city behind us. That's the only thing that I want to happen: just to have the city behind me and the support of our fans. I never said I was leaving. I never, ever thought about leaving. That's basically where my head is right now. I never said anything to [the Magic] about what my plans were because that's not what I'm focused on right now."
The new CBA will dictate this offseason and the way business is done in the NBA next season and beyond. It's a bit useless to go crazy without knowing the rules of the game which GMs will be playing.
It's easy to say that Howard could be better off using his ETO as a veto option for trades, giving him the leverage to issue a shortlist of preferred destinations. And the Bulls would likely be at the top of that list because the pieces are already in place and the scheme of any team would automatically revolve around him.
But the next CBA is expected to be less gratifying for long-term maximum contracts. He could gain about 40-to-50 or even $60 million over seven years or more than $100 million in guaranteed money by signing an extension with Orlando before the CBA expires at the end of this month.
It is reasonable to speculate that if Howard doesn't agree to a deal by then, he's looking to parlay that loss into relocating, while using the ETO as a veto hammer. Otherwise, not extending now just doesn't make any damn sense, right?
If the new CBA includes a franchise tag, the Magic can only buy themselves time to trade what would then be a heavily disgruntled, get-me-the-hell-out-of-here Howard. At best, the franchise tag would just keep them from being forced trade before the in-season deadline, as it would buy them the time to deal with a team before the 2012-13 in-season deadline.
There's too much systemic incentive to staying in Orlando and agreeing to do so before July 1. If he allows the CBA to expire, there's no reason to stay in Orlando if he can be traded somewhere with a more upward-looking model. Considering the albatross contracts on the Magic's books, the new CBA is likely to not afford that team any wiggle room to improve.