Nothing changes an NBA franchise faster than the addition of an elite big man, and few offseason deals excite a fan base more than the arrival of a game-changing 7-footer.
This month, there has been a little disappointment -- along with maybe a glimmer of hope for Orlando Magic fans -- because so far no trade offer for All-Star center Dwight Howard has gained any traction.
The anticipation for a deal involving Howard was very high given his status as the league's premier center and his desire to depart Orlando. But even if he ends up playing out a lame-duck season, the 2012-13 season will feature an intriguing shift.
It's not hard to explain why Howard has been in the headlines. A player of his stature can make a huge difference. In the 1960s, Wilt Chamberlain played a similar role in what the NBA looked like. When Wilt left the San Francisco Warriors and went to the Philadelphia 76ers, it was assumed that Philadelphia would become the dominant team among the NBA's elite, but Bill Russell, a Boston Celtic, had a few things to insert into that conversation. The 76ers were able to win only one championship while Wilt was on the team. Russell played on 11 championship teams in his 13 seasons.
In the 1970s, my move from the Milwaukee Bucks to Los Angeles Lakers (after Wilt also made a championship stop with the Lakers) made similar waves. Shaquille O'Neal followed in my footsteps in the 1990s, leaving the Magic for the Lakers and winning three titles in L.A.
In this case, Howard himself may be the reason nothing has happened. He could have been a free agent this summer but, during a tumultuous few weeks around the trade deadline, chose to waive his early termination option in March and to wait until 2013 to gain that status.
That, and subsequent deals, have made it nearly impossible for him to get to Brooklyn, the early favorite to land him this offseason. The Lakers (already noted for their history of big men) have also been mentioned numerous times as suitors. They have no room to maneuver under the salary cap but do have Andrew Bynum to offer in exchange.
The Houston Rockets are also reportedly in the market for Howard's services. The Magic might be interested in salary cap relief and future draft picks in return for giving up Howard. This is where Houston becomes a major factor. The Rockets have a number of high picks that might include a lottery pick from Toronto.
In the end, it doesn't matter whether anybody makes a deal for Howard because Brooklyn, which has a special place in my heart for a couple of reasons I'll explain in a moment, has done some remarkable wheeling and dealing. The Nets re-signed Deron Williams to a five-year contract and acquired Joe Johnson from the Atlanta Hawks, which probably makes the backcourt the best in the league.
The Nets, who began their existence in New Jersey when the ABA formed in 1967 before moving to Long Island and then back to New Jersey, are now headed to Brooklyn.
They drafted me when I left UCLA and it came down to whether I would sign with the Nets or play in the NBA for the Bucks. I chose the Bucks because the NBA seemed to be more stable, but the Nets still became one of the premier teams in pro basketball after they signed Julius Erving in 1973.
When the leagues merged, the Nets survived but since have only two NBA Finals appearances and no titles. Even though they were only 10 miles from Manhattan, the team never caught on.
Nowadays they are owned by a Russian tycoon who has the financial resources to put together a team of first-rate players. I doubt that the Nets will ever earn the nickname "Bums" under Mikhail Prokhorov's leadership. I'm thrilled to see that the borough of Brooklyn is rallying around the team in anticipation of an inter-borough rivalry with the Knicks.
I was a Knicks fan for a while in grade school, but my family was from Brooklyn, where my grandparents settled after they came to the U.S. from the West Indies. I'm sure the owner will feel right at home given the large Russian population that calls Brooklyn home.
Good luck, Nets. Your 7-foot starting center this fall will be Brook Lopez, but even without Howard, your inaugural season in Brooklyn should be very special.