Currently, Otis Smith has everything to lose and nothing to gain. The Orlando Magic’s General Manager is faced with the harsh reality that he will likely be fired after this season, regardless of how he deals with Dwight Howard’s trade demands. After assembling an NBA Finals team in 2009, Smith has made several bad trades in an attempt to fortify his once championship-caliber roster. Because of these unsuccessful trades, Smith now holds the keys to one of the league’s oldest teams, which also happens to earn the league’s second-highest payroll. As Dwight Howard continues to demand a trade from Orlando, Smith should realize that with a roster full of old, overpaid contracts, rebuilding at this stage would be too difficult. Even if Smith successfully traded Howard for a respectable package of rebuilding pieces, ownership in Orlando would blame Smith’s failures as the reason for Howard’s desire to leave. Smith essentially has no choice but to put all of his cards on the table and go for one last championship run.
Dwight Howard does not necessarily want to leave; he just wants to win a championship, something he does not feel capable of doing in Orlando at this point. Meanwhile, in the Western Conference, another franchise centerpiece may be ready to move on from his team. With Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns, both parties recognize an inevitable breakup in the near future. However, Nash has meant so much to both the team and the city of Phoenix since his return to the franchise in 2004 that the Suns would not feel right to deal away one of the sport’s most popular ambassadors and the team’s most iconic player unless Nash requested the trade himself.
Nash, the ultimate teammate, would never put his franchise in the awkward situation of having to trade him. Nash subscribes to the old-school mind-set of never taking a night off in order to honor his contract with the team. Unlike plenty of other stars in the league (Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, Howard), Nash’s priorities are as follows: his current team first, his future second.
Unfortunately for Nash, his upstanding professionalism may be the only thing preventing him from ever winning a championship. Although the Suns were one of the most consistent franchises of the past decade, their title window has closed. With a roster full of overpaid role players and promising but inexperienced big men, the Suns are positioned for several years of rebuilding. Nash, nearing the ripe age of 38, needs to win now. For this reason, the Suns must pay their star retribution for all the tickets and jerseys he has helped sell over the years. The Suns should trade Nash to a contender in Orlando.
Because of Nash’s expiring contract and previously stated desires to end his career with either the Suns, Knicks or Raptors, Nash would be nothing more than a transparent rental for Otis Smith and the Magic, though a rental that may convince Howard that winning in Orlando is possible. For most teams looking to contend over the long haul, trading pieces away for half a season of Nash would be the epitome of a high-risk, high-reward trade. However, the risk is minimized for Smith due to his otherwise inevitable departure.
With 23-year-old forward Ryan Anderson off to a career year in Orlando, the Suns would be interested. After all, Suns’ management notoriously loves strong shooters — exactly what Anderson is. While Anderson is playing incredibly well, his ceiling appears to be a third or fourth piece on a championship team. Because both teams are over the salary cap, Smith would have to include the now-expendable point guard Jameer Nelson in the trade to make the contracts work out. To sweeten the trade, the Magic could throw in a protected future first-round pick.
In terms of basketball sense, the trade would benefit both teams exponentially. In Phoenix, the Suns would get a head start in their rebuilding process by acquiring a promising piece in Anderson while maintaining some stability in the short term with an adequate point guard in Nelson.
Ironically, the Suns’ expected regression without Nash would eventually help them by enhancing their draft position, enabling them to select a top prospect in a deep draft come June.
In Orlando, Dwight Howard would finally get a Krypto to his Superman. Nash, arguably the best passer in the NBA, currently leads the league in assists this season and has led the league in assists for five of the past seven seasons (he finished in the top three the other two years). With a starting lineup of Steve Nash, Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu, Glen Davis and Dwight Howard, the Magic would be dangerous enough to take Smith deep into the playoffs, perhaps deep enough to convince Dwight Howard to stay.
Another feature of Steve Nash’s game is his shooting ability. According to ESPN Insider John Hollinger, Steve Nash’s Combined Shooting Rate (CBR), a stat that combines the career percentages of two-point field goals, three-point field goals and free throws into one concise number, is far and away the best in NBA history. This confirms Nash is at least among the best shooters in NBA history. When Dwight Howard gets double teamed, he loves passing the ball out to shooters on the perimeter. With Nash’s ability to shoot from the outside, and his vision to pass to another open teammate, defenses may not get the luxury of doubling Howard frequently.
As far as Nash and Dwight Howard go, it’s hard to find a better hypothetical compliment in the league. Nash’s only weakness is on defense where he struggles to keep players in front of him. With Howard behind him in the middle of the defense, players would be intimidated from penetrating, masking Nash’s weakness. On offense, Nash is incredibly gifted at fitting the ball into tight spaces — a skill that would allow Dwight Howard opportunities to chase down alley-oop passes more regularly.
Otis Smith has to face the reality that players like Howard come around once in a generation. Whatever package the team would get in return for Howard in a trade would be .75 cents on the dollar and move them further away from winning a championship. Otis Smith needs to win now if he hopes to keep his job. Passing up on an opportunity to acquire Nash may be something he can’t afford to do.
— Contact Jacob Eisenberg.