CHICAGO -- Is Dwight Howard coming to the Bulls?
It's the most popular (nonlockout related) question Bulls fans have these days.
It's also one of the easiest questions in recent memory to answer ... No.
The dreamers in Chicago spent the summer salivating at the possibility of Howard coming to the Bulls and teaming up with Derrick Rose, and the wishful thinkers got an added jolt this week after Scott Raab's interview with Howard came out in the latest edition of Esquire. In it, Howard sounds like a man who will be leaving Orlando and looking for greener pastures. Howard is eligible to become a free agent after the 2011-12 season -- assuming the lockout ends.
"There's more you can do in a bigger place," Howard told Raab. "I'm stuck in a tough position because I feel like right now, where I'm at, I've done so much. And I just don't know what else I can do. I can't live for everybody else. I don't know what decision I'm gonna make as of right now. It's been crazy. Everybody wants me to come here, come play here, come to our team, do this. It's a great feeling, though, to be wanted."
Howard certainly is wanted in Chicago, but the idea of him actually playing for the Bulls is extremely unlikely at this point. First of all, Orlando GM Otis Smith has said repeatedly that he will not trade Howard. Even if Howard becomes a free agent at the end of the year, the Bulls don't have enough money to sign him. They already have big money invested in Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng for the next few years, not to mention the fact that Rose will be due for a max deal if and when this lockout finally ends.
Let's say Smith relents and decides he has to unload Howard before the trade deadline. Why would he send Howard to the Bulls, or any other team in the Eastern Conference, so Howard can dominate the Magic four times every season?
Let's take it a step further, for argument's sake. What do the Bulls have that the Magic would even want? The Bulls aren't giving up Rose. He's untouchable. The Magic aren't touching Carlos Boozer and his contract. Luol Deng played extremely well last season, but he's had plenty of nagging injuries the past few years and is due almost $40 million over the next three years. Joakim Noah? He has the ability to become an All-Star center in this league, but his new contract, which pays him almost $60 million over the next five years kicks in this season. Noah also has missed a lot of time due to various injuries the past two seasons. Would the Magic like young, inexpensive pieces like Taj Gibson and Omer Asik, or possibly Nikola Mirotic? Sure, they would. But are those pieces, as well as any draft picks the Bulls would include, worth enough to take on contracts as large as Deng's, Noah's and Boozer's? (At least one or two of those deals would have to be included in any potential deal for Howard under the current salary cap structure.)
I seriously doubt it.
To those who say, "Well, the Magic are going to lose him anyway, so they have to make a deal."
OK, but there have to be better and cheaper options out there than anything the Bulls can offer. The Magic could decide to wait and do a sign and trade for Howard for picks and a salary cap exception much the same way Cleveland did last summer and decide to build from scratch that way. The issue for the Magic is that they have so many bad contracts on the roster right now that even if they lose Hoawrd's huge cap number, they still won't be able to start over.
To that point, the good news for the Bulls, and every other team out there, is that Smith is still the GM of the Magic. As Smith has proven over the past season, if there is a bad deal out there to be made, he's the guy that will find a way to make it happen. His track record recently speaks for itself.
Still, the guess here is that Howard ends up somewhere in the Western Conference, not Chicago. Yes, with Smith at the helm, there's always the possibility that something crazy could happen. The problem for the Bulls is that they simply don't have the chips, or the right geographical location, that Orlando wants to deal with right now.